What Did Trump Admin Know about Saudi Killing of Journalist and When Did They Know it?

Saudi Arabia lured Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and murdered him, according to Turkish intelligence. Turkey claims to have video and audio evidence of Khashoggi being abducted, tortured, murdered, and dismembered with a bone saw, by Saudi hitmen. Turkish officials also told US officials that the order for the operation came from Saudi royal court, according to the New York Times. Saudi Arabia denies this, but can’t account for the whereabouts of Khashoggi, who hasn’t been seen since he entered the consulate on October 2nd.

Khashoggi was a Saudi national, but lived in Virginia, where he wrote a column bluntly criticizing Middle Eastern politics in the Washington Post. He was a US green card holder, or permanent resident, and a journalist for a top American publication. Yet, Donald Trump is treating the murder/disappearance as if it doesn’t concern the White House. When confronted about it, he responded that he wouldn’t let it disrupt the plan to sell $110 billion in weapons to Riyadh.

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Representative Adam Schiff, Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee, suggested that this was a case where Trump’s emoluments and conflicts of interest may be preventing him from doing his job to protect American interests and freedom of the press:

Indeed, Saudi envoys have emerged as the biggest spenders at Trump hotels since he became president and presented his hotels as an unconstitutional wallet for international bribes. But the fact that this is a conflict of interest is only scraping the surface. The connection to the White House goes a lot deeper.

Khashoggi first became persona non grata in Saudi Arabia in 2016. His sin that was intolerable to the Saudi monarchy? Did he call the Crown Prince a fuzzy goofball? Did he say women have an inalienable right to drive? No. He criticized Donald Trump. That was the beginning of Saudi Arabia’s persecution of their own national working as a journalist in the US. According to The Independent, in December, 2016, Khashoggi described Trump’s Middle East policy as “contradictory,” saying that the president-elect opposed Iran but supported policies in Syria that would ultimately bolster Iran. He said that any hope of an improved relationship was wishful thinking. And for that, the Saudi monarchy banned him and his work from the kingdom.

Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler is Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the young “reformer” who is turning out to be a ruthless and reckless autocrat. It is believed that he is consolidating power despite the fact that his father is still alive, because King Salman may be suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Bin Salman has become fast friends with Trump’s son-in-law and extremely problematic security clearance-holder, Jared Kushner. This relationship proved vital in the Prince’s quest to purge rivals while his father still lives. In March, The Intercept reported a stunning meeting in which Kushner skipped town for Riyadh, where he helped bin Salman facilitate a purge of disloyal royal family members:

In late October, Jared Kushner made an unannounced trip to Riyadh, catching some intelligence officials off guard. “The two princes are said to have stayed up until nearly 4 a.m. several nights, swapping stories and planning strategy,” the Washington Post’s David Ignatius reported at the time.

What exactly Kushner and the Saudi royal talked about in Riyadh may be known only to them, but after the meeting, Crown Prince Mohammed told confidants that Kushner had discussed the names of Saudis disloyal to the crown prince, according to three sources who have been in contact with members of the Saudi and Emirati royal families since the crackdown. Kushner, through his attorney’s spokesperson, denies having done so.

“Some questions by the media are so obviously false and ridiculous that they merit no response. This is one. The Intercept should know better,” said Peter Mirijanian, a spokesperson for Kushner’s lawyer Abbe Lowell.

On November 4, a week after Kushner returned to the U.S., the crown prince, known in official Washington by his initials MBS, launched what he called an anti-corruption crackdown. The Saudi government arrested dozens of members of the Saudi royal family and imprisoned them in the Ritz-Carlton Riyadh, which was first reported in English by The Intercept. The Saudi figures named in the President’s Daily Brief were among those rounded up; at least one was reportedly tortured.

The Intercept also reported that bin Salman later bragged that Kushner was “in his pocket.”

Given that Kushner helped bin Salman facilitate a purge, and that Khashoggi’s initial “crime” was criticizing Trump, it raises the question: what did Kushner know about the Saudi plan to kill Khashoggi?

According to Navy intelligence analyst, counterterrorism expert, and author Malcolm Nance, US intelligence would have issued a presidential flash briefing on the threat to Khashoggi’s life within 5 minutes of it being collected.

The Turks knew and they shared it with the US. This means that someone in the White House knew that the Saudis were planning to kill Khashoggi.

According to 11-year CIA veteran Ned Price–who published a Washington Post op-ed explaining why he was resigning the CIA rather than working under Trump–US intelligence has an obligation to inform someone if they might be a potential target of a foreign operation, before they go overseas.

The Saudi prince was known to purge opponents with the help of Kushner. Khashoggi’s persecution began when he criticized Trump. Someone in the White House knew that Khashoggi was threatened by the Saudis and failed to warn him.

In this light, Trump’s insistence that it happened in Turkey and Khashoggi wasn’t even a US citizen seems highly suspect. But Trump’s messaging apparatus has gone a lot further than simply distancing the White House from the situation. Donald Trump Jr. often handles his dad’s dirty work, and churns out the real paranoid propaganda that he tweets out to the president’s base, while the man in the Oval Office gaslights the rest of the country. On Friday, Trump Jr. retweeted Federalist co-founder Sean Davis’s claim that Khashoggi was an Islamist, implying that he deserved what he got.

His evidence that he was an Islamist is that, in the 1980s, Khashoggi embedded as a journalist with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. What they failed to mention was that the Reagan administration was funding the mujahideen and comparing them to the Founding Fathers. It wasn’t considered strange at the time, and there’s no evidence that al Qaeda’s views rubbed off on Khashoggi.

Some of the more serious international hands still left in the White House might be nervous about how bad it looks that the president is shrugging about the murder of a journalist with a trail of blood splotches that leads to the White House. US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley resigned suddenly, taking Washington by surprise, on Tuesday. As she departed, she said,

“Jared is such a hidden genius that no one understands.”

Did she know something ugly was coming and wanted to get out of the way? And was she trying to tell us something about what Kushner knows?

This website is funded entirely by the generosity of patrons. Please click here to support Marc Belisle’s honest ad-free analysis of the threats against American democracy.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons and POMED / Flickr

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