By Mark Sumner / Daily Kos
It’s not unusual for governments to cooperate in investigating an international crime. It’s a little less common for governments to put their heads together in an attempt to dream up an acceptable alibi for why a Washington Post journalist was literally taken apart one finger at a time.
With the Turkish government releasing grisly information on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, the US government should be pressuring the Saudi leadership for the facts about the brutal murder of a US resident journalist. And according to a report from the Washington Post, the US and Saudi governments are cooperating … but to cover up a crime, not find the truth.
In days of private phone calls and Oval Office huddles, Trump has repeatedly reached for reasons to protect the U.S.-Saudi relationship, according to administration officials and presidential advisers.
Trump has gone out of his way to create the impression that nothing can be allowed to threaten the US–Saudi bond, repeatedly pointing to an enormous, and totally fictional, arms sale that creates an equally large number of fictional jobs. The truth is that the leverage in the relationship should all be on the US side, but Trump has behaved as if the United States is the junior partner, utterly dependent on dollars from crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Trump has also gone out of his way to disown Khashoggi. Even though the journalist was a US resident and lived just outside Washington, DC, every time the story has come up Trump has insisted on pointing out that Khashoggi was a Saudi Arabian citizen. But Trump’s efforts to protect bin Salman go beyond just claiming that the “relationship” with Saudi Arabia is important and the life of Jamal Khashoggi is not. Trump is hiding intelligence related to Khashoggi’s murder even from Senate Republicans. A scheduled briefing was canceled and no information is being shared with the Senate.
It seems crystal clear that Trump is giving Mohammed bin Salman time and room to invest any alibi he can think of, and that the Saudi “investigation” is the only investigation into Khashoggi’s death that the US will reference going forward. Trump fully intends to let the murders package up and excuse.
There are important reasons for the United States to protect the relationship with Saudi Arabia. But what’s showcased by Trump’s assistance in covering up the murder of Khashoggi is how deeply distorted US–foreign relations have become under Trump. Trump is not concerned about the relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia as nation-states whose goals overlap and diverge over a period of decades. He views this as a personal relationship. It’s not the US and Saudi Arabia. It’s Trump and bin Salman. And Jamal Khashoggi … was a critic. For the Washington Post. That’s solidly in the “my friend the crown prince” vs. the “fake news.”
Trump can’t get outside of his personal, business relationship with a man he views as his partner in “winning.” And his reaction is to protect that relationship at all costs, even if that means that the nation states involved suffer irreparable harm.
To make the world safe for whatever Mohammed bin Salman wants to say, Trump has even cut off communications with Republican-led Senate committees and made it clear that door will stay shut until the Saudis have their alibi in hand.
“I can only surmise that probably the intel is not painting a pretty picture as it relates to Saudi Arabia,” [Republican Senator Bob Corker] said. Based on the earlier intelligence he had reviewed, he added, “everything points not to just Saudi Arabia, but to MBS,” referring to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. “This could not have happened without his approval.”
The crime could not have happened without bin Salman’s sanction, and the ongoing cover-up of the crime could not happen without Donald Trump’s blessing. The Saudis may be searching for every possible reason why bin Salman is not to blame for this. Trump may be putting up every roadblock to give bin Salman time to cook up an alibi that would withstand three episodes of Law & Order.
But, as the New York Times reports, the evidence is only growing that Mohammed bin Salman was directly involved in the murder of Khashoggi. The list of men who flew into Istanbul to torture and kill Khashoggi included at least one who was known to be a personal guard of bin Salman and others who had worked directly for the crown prince.
If, as the Turkish authorities say, these men were present at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul where Mr. Khashoggi disappeared on Oct. 2, they might provide a direct link between what happened and Prince Mohammed. That would undercut any suggestion that Mr. Khashoggi died in a rogue operation unsanctioned by the crown prince. Their connection to him could also make it more difficult for the White House and Congress to accept such an explanation.
Congress? Maybe. But Trump would have no such problem finding an excuse. Because his focus is in protecting exactly his connection to bin Salman. Other leaders around the world are trying to push the Saudis to give honest answers. Trump is trying to help them find excuses.
There’s no excuse for that.