- President Donald Trump has so far stood by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman despite damning allegations he ordered the killing of Jamal Khashoggi in early October.
- Trump’s ongoing support for Prince Mohammed, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, follows a long pattern.
- The president has a tendency to accept denials from his allies and those close to him when they face accusations of serious wrongdoing.
President Donald Trump has so far stood by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman despite damning allegations he ordered the killing of Jamal Khashoggi in early October.
Trump’s ongoing support for Prince Mohammed, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, follows a long pattern: The president has a tendency to accept denials from his allies and those close to him when they face accusations of serious wrongdoing, regardless of how credible the accusations are. Meanwhile, he routinely and viciously lashes out at virtually anyone who criticises him, at times embracing and promoting conspiracy theories to delegitimize them.
Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who wrote for The Washington Post, went missing after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2. After nearly three weeks of denials, Saudi Arabia finally acknowledged Khashoggi was killed in the consulate, but has maintained Prince Mohammed knew nothing about it.
Riyadh’s attempts to distance Prince Mohammed from the killing have been met with widespread scepticism, and the CIA has reportedly concluded with “high confidence” he ordered a team to take Khashoggi out.
But Trump has largely responded to the disturbing details surrounding Khashoggi’s killing by touting Saudi denials while emphasising the purported benefits of the US-Saudi relationship.
In an interview with Fox News anchor Chris Wallace that aired Sunday, the president avoided placing any significant blame on Prince Mohammed.
“He told me that he had nothing to do with it,” Trump said of the Saudi prince.
Trump added, “Will anybody really know? All right, will anybody really know? But he did have certainly people that were reasonably close to him and close to him that were probably involved. You saw we put on very heavy sanctions, massive sanctions on a large group of people from Saudi Arabia. But at the same time we do have an ally and I want to stick with an ally that in many ways has been very good.”
Trump says he "doesn't want to hear the tape" of Khasoggi's murder b/c "it's a suffering tape. It's a terrible tape. I've been fully briefed on it"
He adds he's not sure if Mohammed bin Salman lied to him because "he told me he had nothing to do w/it…will anybody really know?" pic.twitter.com/xjo239IIdh
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) November 18, 2018
The interview aired just two days after a bombshell report from The Washington Post that said the CIA had concluded Prince Mohammed explicitly ordered Khashoggi’s killing.
Trump is seemingly accepting the denial of a dubious autocrat over the findings of the US intelligence community.
The president’s posture is similar to his stance toward Russian President Vladimir Putin, which includes controversial remarks Trump has made undermining US intelligence assessments on the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Trump came under fire in July after he appeared to side with Putin’s denials about Russia’s interference over the US intelligence community’s conclusions on the subject.
But this is also reminiscent of Trump’s acceptance of denials from a number of people on the domestic front.
After former staff secretary Rob Porter resigned from the White House amid allegations of domestic violence, for example, Trump came to his defence. “He says he’s innocent,” Trump said the week Porter resigned back in February. “He said very strongly yesterday that he’s innocent.”
Similarly, when failed Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama faced accusations of sexually assaulting multiple teenage girls, Trump continued to support him. “He denies it, he denies it,” Trump said of Moore in November 2017. “He says it didn’t happen, and you have to listen to him also. And he said, 40 years ago, that this did not happen.”
When former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly faced allegations of sexual harassment from multiple women, Trump in April 2017 said, “I don’t think Bill did anything wrong.” He described O’Reilly as a person he knows “well.”
More recently, as Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh faced allegations of sexual misconduct during his confirmation hearing, Trump also came to his defence.
In fact, Trump has used the same rhetoric he employed to defend Kavanaugh as he’s responded to the Khashoggi killing and allegations against Saudi Arabia’s leadership. Speaking on the investigation in mid-October, Trump said, “Here we go again with, you know, you’re guilty until proven innocent. I don’t like that. We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh. And he was innocent all the way.”
In short, Trump has made a habit of embracing denials when they’re convenient for him – even at the expense of undermining the US intelligence community – while habitually rejecting facts that don’t support his agenda or make him look bad.