President Donald Trump backed the denials of a murderous dictator Monday after the mysterious disappearance of a Washington Post columnist who criticized the Saudi Arabian kingdom.
Just as Trump did a months ago in Helsinki, when he stood alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin to back his denial that the Kremlin did not interfere in the 2016 election despite the United States intelligence community's findings that they did, the president made a similar claim to back Saudi King Salman’s denials about the reported death of columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
“I just spoke with the King of Saudi Arabia and he denies any knowledge of what took place with regards to, as he said, to Saudi Arabia’s citizen,” Trump told reporters Monday. “He firmly denies that.”
"We are going to leave nothing uncovered,” he added. “With that being said the king firmly denies any knowledge of it. He didn’t really know, maybe, I don’t want to get into his mind but it sounded to me like maybe it could have been rogue killers, who knows? We’re going to try get to the bottom of it very soon but his was a flat denial."
Trump previously suggested that even if the Saudi government was behind the alleged assassination, he would be hesitant to act because of the kingdom's arms deal with the U.S.
"If they don't buy it from us, they're going to buy it from Russia or they're going to buy it from China," Trump told reporters. "Think of that, $110 billion. All they're going to do is give it to other countries, and I think that would be very foolish."
Trump's backing of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who took over the country last year, comes as The New York Times reports that U.S. intelligence agencies intercepted communications between Saudi officials discussing a plot to detain Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia, which exiled has previously exiled him.
Khashoggi was last seen going into the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. The 59-year-old columnist had been an unofficial spokesman for the Saudi royal family before Mohammed bin Salman rose to power. Khashoggi became a critic of the crown prince and left the country to relocate to Virginia.
Khashoggi went to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul earlier this month because he needed a certificate of divorce from his previous wife so he can remarry in Turkey the following day. He was last seen on surveillance video going into the consulate, but never came out despite his fiancee waiting for him for hours.
Turkish officials say the Saudi leadership ordered an Khashoggi to be assassinated. According to their findings, 15 Saudi agents flew into Istanbul on two private jets. The agents ambushed Khashoggi in the consulate and killed him, the Turkish officials said.
Bin Salman has denied the allegations, but claimed without any evidence that Khashoggi left the consulate on his own accord.
Though Trump has hinted there may be “severe punishment” if Saudi Arabia is involved in the disappearance, he has also downplayed his responsibility in the matter by repeatedly pointing out Khashoggi was not an American citizen. He was a U.S. resident.
“It’s in Turkey, and it’s not a citizen, as I understand it,” he said, later adding, “Again, this took place in Turkey, and to the best of our knowledge, Khashoggi is not a United States citizen.”
“Just spoke to the King of Saudi Arabia who denies any knowledge of whatever may have happened 'to our Saudi Arabian citizen,'” he tweeted Monday.
But as HBO's “Last Week Tonight” host John Oliver points out, at least some of the blame for Saudi Arabia's brazen actions lies with the president, who has emboldened the kingdom by backing their “corruption” crackdown that led to the jailing of political opponents, their blockage of Qatar, and their bombing campaign of Yemen – which has killed scores of innocent civilians.
“He’s openly demonstrated to the entire world—and to Saudi Arabia, specifically—that arms deal is much more important than a butchered journalist,” Oliver said. “Trump’s intense bromance with MBS is bad news, because when you set no boundaries on an oppressive regime, they’re always going to ask themselves, ‘How much can we get away with here?’ and as we saw this week, the answer to that may well be: pretty much anything.”