Trump’s Not Gonna Let a Little Murder Get in the Way of His $110 Billion Arms Deal
new report in The Washington Post, citing U.S. intelligence intercepts, appears to confirm what is looking increasingly likely: that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman personally ordered the operation to lure journalist Jamal Khashoggi from his home in Virginia to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last week, and had him murdered. Turkish security officials told The New York Times that they believe he was “dismembered . . . with a bone saw” by a 15-person team, dispatched from Saudi Arabia to make the vociferous critic of Salman’s government disappear. It is, in other words, not a good look for the so-called “reformer” prince, whose country has denied killing Khashoggi, but is not trying particularly hard to be convincing. Nor is it a good look for Donald Trump and Jared Kushner, who don’t seem eager to terminate a chummy relationship with the crown prince over a credible murder allegation. At least not just yet.
For those who need a quick refresher on the Kushner-M.B.S. bromance, the two first bonded over lunch at the White House back in March 2017, with the Boy Prince of New Jersey subsequently persuading his father-in-law to visit Riyadh for his first trip abroad as president. From there, it was basically a buddy comedy for the ages, with Kushner championing M.B.S. when the young prince was battling with his cousin to become his father’s heir; supporting his move to blockade Qatar and tacitly supporting his brutal war in Yemen; having back-slapping dinners with the prince in D.C. and the Saudi capital; and reportedly giving M.B.S. the names of disloyal Saudi royals who were later rounded up and imprisoned (Kushner denies this). Perhaps most significant, the two struck a deal for a $110 billion weapons sale—not a bad inducement if you’re trying to get the future king’s blessing for your Israeli-Palestinian peace plan. Salman’s financial ties to Trump run deep, too. In March, the prince’s entourage almost single-handedly boosted revenue at Trump’s New York hotel by 13 percent. Presumably, Kushner and M.B.S. had discussed plans to get a boys trip on the calendar in between work and family commitments.
So the news that Saudi Arabia likely murdered a journalist who spoke critically of the crown prince’s regime has put Kushner in, as the Times puts it, an “extremely awkward position”! At first, Kushner and the White House chose to stay silent on the matter, like friends of Brett Kavanaugh refusing to dignify allegations of their pal being a fall-down drunk with a sexual-predator problem. But as the evidence kept piling up, it was clear they had to at least feign some level of concern, which apparently involved calling up M.B.S. and being like, “Hey, did you kill this guy? Nope? O.K., works for us!”
On Tuesday, the White House said, Mr. Kushner and John R. Bolton, the national security adviser, spoke to Prince Mohammed by phone about Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also called him.
“In both calls, they asked for more details and for the Saudi government to be transparent in the investigation process,” said the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Meanwhile, Kushner’s father-in-law suggested Wednesday night that he thought the Saudis probably didkill Khashoggi, expressing less anger about the situation than he did when Nordstrom dropped his daughters’s clothing line. “It would not be a positive,” he told Fox News. “I would not be happy at all.” But while the smallest perceived slights generally result in the president vowing to destroy another country—for instance, threatening to economically cripple Ecuador for promoting breastfeeding—he apparently sees no reason to stop doing business with the kingdom:
. . . The president expressed reluctance to punish Saudi Arabia by cutting off arms sales, as some in Washington were proposing. “I think that would be hurting us,” he said. “We have jobs, we have a lot of things happening in this country.”
Also on Thursday, Trump made his disregard for Khashoggi’s death even more obvious, telling reporters: “Again, this took place in Turkey, and to the best of our knowledge Khashoggi is not a U.S. citizen, is that right? He’s a permanent resident, O.K. . . . As to whether or not we should stop $110 billion from being spent in this country . . . that would not be acceptable to me.” Incidentally, many say the deal is not worth anywhere near $110 billion, though accuracy has never been the president’s forte (that would be cozying up to autocrats who flout democratic values and human rights).