Trump Still Won’t Acknowledge The Truth About The Murder Of Jamal Khashoggi

Eight months later, the President and his Administration continue to refuse to acknowledge the truth about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

It has been nearly eight months since Washington Post columnist and American Permanent Resident Jamal Khashoggi walked into the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Istanbul for the purpose of obtaining documents related to his divorce from his first wife in Saudi Arabia. Khashoggi never walked out of that building, of course, and its believed that he was murdered in cold blood by a security team sent from the KSA specifically for the purpose of killing him, under the direction and with the approval of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Indeed, the evidence establishing the guilt of the man known popularly as “MBS” is rather overwhelming.

We know for a fact that Khashoggi entered the consulate thanks photographic evidence showing him walking into the evidence shortly after 1:00 p.m. on that fateful day. Additionally, Khashoggi’s fiance was waiting for him across the street and saw him walk into the building. There is, however, no record of Khashoggi ever leaving. Despite that, the Saudis initially took the position that this is exactly what happened at the same time they made the absurd claim that they could not provide evidence to support the claim that he left the building because they did not keep recordings from their security cameras. In the weeks that followed, the evidence against the Saudis continued to mount, and the Saudi denials became even more ridiculous.

Once it became clear that the Saudi lies and evasions were not holding up to scrutiny, the government in Riyadh became scrambling to put forward a new series of explanations for what may have happened to Khashoggi, all of them obviously designed to shield the Crown Prince from culpability in the matter. First, the government put forward the theory that Khashoggi’s disappearance was due to an operation by what President Trump described as ‘rogue killers’ who acted without the knowledge or consent of their superiors. This hard-to-believe explanation was being circulated at the same time that evidence was being released, including the fact that Khashoggi had died inside the consulate and revealed certain facts surrounding his death, and the details surrounding the arrival and departure of a team of fifteen Saudis linked to the Crown Prince, military, and intelligence services who allegedly were involved in whatever happened to the Washington Post columnist and Saudi dissident. Among these revelations was the fact that nearly all of the members of the aforementioned fifteen person team, including the alleged leaders, were linked in some way to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman,  Despite all of this, the Saudis continued to assert that bin Salman knew nothing about what had happened to Khashoggi. This was an entirely implausible explanation that required one to forget everything we know about how things actually operate in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Finally, after it was clear that they were looking to pin responsibility for Khashoggi’s fate on a fall guy, the Saudis put forward an explanation claiming that Khashoggi’s death was the result of an operation that was carried out by people close to the Crown Prince but done entirely without his knowledge or authorization. They also claimed that the original intent of the operation had been to question Khashoggi and/or return him surreptitiously to the KSA. This story was no more credible than previous explanations, of course, but that is precisely the position that the Saudis took when they finally released an official “explanation” for Khashoggi’s disappearance and death that acknowledged that he was, in fact, dead and that his death had occurred when he was inside the consulate.

This explanation, though, maintained the hard to believe a claim that the operation that led to Khashoggi’s death, which Riyadh maintained at the time was due to a rendition (a/k/a kidnapping) operation gone awry was not authorized at the highest levels before being carried out. Eventually, the Saudis acknowledged that it was the intention of the operation to kill Khashoggi, although they continue to maintain the increasingly implausible claim that the Crown Prince knew nothing about what was being carried out in the name of the country he leads.

Throughout all of this, the Trump Administration has stood steadfastly behind our so-called “allies” in Riyadh. As noted above, President Trump himself was the first person to publicly suggest the utterly ridiculous idea that the team sent to kill Khashoggi was acting without authorization from the highest levels of the Saudi government.

In the time that has followed since roughly the end of November when the Khashoggi matter largely disappeared from the news, the Trump Administration has not wavered in its support for the Saudi regime in general and Crown Prince bin Salman specifically. Instead, they have continued to coddle him and his family, to provide material and other support for his regime’s genocide in Yemen, and to take advantage of the United States at every turn.

Now, some the clear and convincing evidence regarding the guilt of the government of the Saudi government in general and the Crown Prince in Khashoggi’s murder, President Trump still refuses to acknowledge the truth about what happened eight months ago:

WASHINGTON — President Trump on Sunday shrugged off the brutal dismembering of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, just days after a United Nations report described how a team of Saudi assassins called Mr. Khashoggi a “sacrificial animal” before his murder.

The U.N. report urged an F.B.I. investigation into the slaying. But in an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Mr. Trump said the episode had already been thoroughly investigated. He said the Middle East is “a vicious, hostile place” and noted that Saudi Arabia is an important trading partner with the United States.

“I only say they spend $400 to $450 billion over a period of time, all money, all jobs, buying equipment,” the president told Chuck Todd, the show’s moderator. “I’m not like a fool that says, ‘We don’t want to do business with them.’ And by the way, if they don’t do business with us, you know what they do? They’ll do business with the Russians or with the Chinese.”

The Washington Post’s Editorial Board responds:

Mr. Trump disclosed during an interview with “Meet the Press” that aired Sunday that he had a “great conversation” on Friday morning with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose team was dispatched to dismember Khashoggi. Did Mr. Trump bring up the murder? “I did not,” he said, “because it really didn’t come up in that discussion.” Mr. Trump said the call was to discuss his pressure campaign against Saudi Arabia’s arch foe, Iran, after the shoot-down of a U.S. drone.

Mr. Trump then immediately deployed a favorite evasive technique, saying Iran “killed many, many people a day” and the Middle East is a “vicious, hostile place,” as if that were enough to explain Khashoggi’s death.

Next, Mr. Trump pirouetted to arms sales to Saudi Arabia, tossing out wildly exaggerated estimates of the value. “So Saudi Arabia is a big buyer of America product,” he said. “That means something to me.” He added, “Take their money.” Moderator Chuck Todd asked: Should there be FBI assistance to the investigation of Khashoggi’s death? “I think it’s been heavily investigated,” Mr. Trump replied, not answering the question. In fact, the Saudis have yet to reveal how they disposed of Khashoggi’s body, never mind hold the masterminds to account for his murder.

On Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Saudi Arabia, smiling at King Salman and hailing a “productive meeting” about regional tensions. No doubt Mr. Pompeo also did not offend the king by raising the cases of numerous women imprisoned and tortured for their advocacy of women’s rights.

Is this what Mr. Trump meant by “very severe” consequences? The premeditated murder of a contributing columnist who believed in democracy does not concern him, but the care and feeding of the dictatorial kingdom that sent the killers gets his lavish attention and slavish devotion. What does the United States get in return? Complicity in a criminal war in Yemen, and an indelible stain on its moral record.

In part, of course, Trump’s behavior here can be chalked up to the fact that he has spent the past two-and-a-half years expressing open affinity for authoritarian leaders in nations like Russia, China, North Korea, Egypt, The Philippines, and, of course, Saudi Arabia while simultaneously spitting in the faces of our most trusted democratic allies in Europe, Asia, and North America. As I’ve said before, that affinity is demonstrated no better than by the fact that one of the first foreign trips he took as President took him to Saudi Arabia, which put on precisely the kind of obsequious display that would please the narcissist in chief. The Saudis know how to stroke Trump’s ego, and he returns the favor with unquestioning behavior.

As for his argument about arms sales, the truth is far less than meets the eye. As several observers have noted, the actual Saudi commitment when it comes to future arms purchase is far below the numbers that Trump is quoting. Additionally, his fear-mongering that cutting Riyadh off from military aid in retaliation for the Khashoggi murder and the genocide in Yemen would throw them into the arms of Russia and/or China is absurd. For more than four decades now, the Saudi military has been built around the acquisition and use of American arms, planes, and other material. They are going to depend on that military for decades to come and there’s basically only one place they can come to for spare parts and upgrades and that’s the United States. Rather than us being dependant on the Saudis, it’s them who are dependent on us. A President with courage would use that dependence to force Riyadh to account for its actions. Instead, we have a President who wants to be a king who panders to the dictators in Riyadh and relieves them of responsibility for cold-blooded murder and genocide. It’s really quite pathetic.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Middle East, National Security, Politicians, US Politics, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. DrDaveT says:

    Without in any way detracting from this particular article, it’s way past time that we all acknowledged that “Trump Still Won’t Acknowledge The Truth About ___” is always true, regardless of how you fill in the blank. How to cope with a post-truth administration is the number one problem facing America.

  2. Sleeping Dog says:

    and they invest in his properties.

  3. Gustopher says:

    The Saudis are betting a lot on Trump’s re-election, aren’t they? A Democrat coming in 2021 is going to have to completely redefine our relationship with them.

    Clever Saudis would be putting together a list of ineffective sanctions that wouldn’t bother them, and passing that off to Kushner, and then having the Trump Administration announce these tough new sanctions, so they could then claim to put the incident behind them.

  4. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    Fortunately, neither Trump nor the Saudis are clever enough to figure that out. Doesn’t change anything on the ground, but it’s something.

  5. Pete S says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: There is every possibility that the Saudis have been clever enough to figure this out, but they are not clever enough to get Trump to memorize and repeat his lines in a convincing fashion. If he gets halfway through a speech imposing the sanctions it is a coin toss whether or not he gets to the end without denouncing the sanctions he has just announced.