- President Donald Trump was broadly criticised by members of both parties on Tuesday after issuing a forceful defence of Saudi Arabia over the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
- A Washington Post report last week said the CIA concluded with “high confidence” that the crown prince directly ordered for Khashoggi’s killing.
- Trump on Tuesday expressed doubts about Crown Prince Mohammed’s involvement, stating, “Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!”
- “POTUS sided with a brutal dictator over CIA? Shocking,” one current FBI agent told INSIDER.
- Another agent said Trump is using the intelligence community as a “whipping toy for political purposes.”
President Donald Trump was broadly criticised on Tuesday after issuing a forceful defence of Saudi Arabia over the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
Trump signalled he does not plan to make significant changes to the US-Saudi partnership, pointing to the purported economic and strategic benefits of maintaining a strong relationship with Riyadh.
“The crime against Jamal Khashoggi was a terrible one, and one that our country does not condone,” Trump said in the statement. “In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They have been a great ally… The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia.”
The president also would not say whether he shares the widely held belief that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman orchestrated the Saudi journalist’s killing. “Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t,” Trump said.
‘This is a new low’
Khashoggi’s editor at The Post, Karen Attiah, said Trump’s Tuesday statement represents “a new low.”
“Trump’s statement on Saudi Arabia + #Khashoggi is full of lies and a blatant disregard for his own intelligence agencies,”Attiah tweeted. “It also shows an unforgivable disregard for the lives of Saudis who dare criticise the regime. This is a new low.”
Last week, The Post reported that the CIA had concluded with “high confidence” that the crown prince directly ordered Khashoggi’s killing at the Saudi consulate in Turkey in October.
The CIA is expected to release a report on Khashoggi’s killing later Tuesday.
Fred Ryan, the CEO and publisher of The Post, released a similarly bruising statement.
“President Trump’s response to the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is a betrayal of long-established American values of respect for human rights and the expectation of trust and honesty in our strategic relationships,” Ryan said.
‘This administration faces a choice’ between order or chaos
Trump’s statement was not entirely unexpected. He was slow to comment on the CIA’s reported findings over the weekend, and when Fox News host Chris Wallace asked the president whether he believed the Saudi crown prince had lied to him, Trump responded, “I don’t know. You know, who can really know? But I can say this, he’s got many people now that say he had no knowledge.”
Following his forceful defence of Saudi Arabia and the crown prince Tuesday, critics slammed Trump for what they said was an undermining of the US’s commitment to human rights.
“Since Mr. Trump excels in dishonesty, it is now up to members of Congress to obtain & declassify the CIA findings on Jamal Khashoggi’s death,” former CIA director John Brennan tweeted in response to Trump’s statement. “No one in Saudi Arabia – most especially the Crown Prince – should escape accountability for such a heinous act.”
Daniel Balson, Amnesty International USA’s advocacy director for Europe and Central Asia, echoed that view.
“On the Khashoggi matter, this administration faces a choice,” Balson told INSIDER. “On one side of the dividing line is a place where journalists and critics can be wantonly killed and where the predations of the powerful are rewarded with impunity.”
Balson added: “On the other side is order, international law, a free press, and accountability. President Trump can wax poetic about Saudi authorities, but he cannot make that choice disappear.”
Democrats – and even some Republicans – in Congress also slammed Trump over his response.
Republican Sen. Rand Paul tweeted, “I’m pretty sure this statement is Saudi Arabia First, not America First. I’m also pretty sure John Bolton wrote it.”
“It’s now 100% clear the Saudis own our President,” Sen. Chris Murphy, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and has repeatedly called for a reevaluation of US policy toward the Saudis, tweeted.
Trump in his Tuesday statement said Congress was “free” to go in a different direction than him on this issue, adding, “I will consider whatever ideas are presented to me, but only if they are consistent with the absolute security and safety of America.”
Trump is using the intel community as a ‘whipping toy’
While Trump’s statement drew shock from some, intelligence veterans saw it as par for the course.
“POTUS sided with a brutal dictator over CIA? Shocking,” one current FBI agent, who requested anonymity to speak candidly, told INSIDER in a text message.
Another agent said Trump is using the intelligence community as a “whipping toy for political purposes.” The agent told INSIDER politicizing the intelligence community is not a new tactic, but added that Trump’s propensity for doing so is “unprecedented.”
“Not surprising when politicians trash the [intelligence community] or any one agency if they get an outcome undesirable to their agenda. It has been going on for decades,” this person said, pointing to lawmakers’ response to the Vietnam War and the use of CIA blacksites.
“This case is unique because you have a US president who has routinely debased US intelligence not because he gets outcomes undesirable for a certain political agenda, but because they hurt his own personal or financial interests,” they added. “That’s unprecedented.”
Glenn Carle, a former CIA covert operative, offered a similarly blunt assessment of Trump’s response to the Khashoggi investigation.
“The main pillar of this administration when it comes to the Middle East is that the president wants to make nice with [Crown Prince Mohammed] and Saudi Arabia because he likes dictators and because the Saudis have bought the man,” Carle told INSIDER.
‘Trump is Trumpian’
Jim Carafano, a national security expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation, told INSIDER there was nothing “terribly remarkable” about Trump’s words.
“[Trump] didn’t say people shouldn’t be held accountable. He didn’t say human rights don’t matter. He even left open the possibility [Prince Mohammed] was involved,” Carafano said.
At the end of the day, Carafano said the US-Saudi partnership was never really going to change, and he suspects former President Barack Obama would have issued a statement with the same general substance as Trump’s.
When asked about some of the misleading claims Trump made in the statement, such as previously debunked assertions about US arms sales to the Saudis, Carafano replied, “Trump is Trumpian.”