The depths Republican politicians will sink to in order to defend Donald Trump keep getting lower. Utah Republican Congressman Chris Stewart just showed us all a new low:
During an interview with CNN’s Brianna Keilar on Tuesday, Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) defended President Donald Trump’s decision to stand by Saudi Arabia despite overwhelming evidence that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was behind the murder of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Admitting that it’s possible MBS ordered the killing, Stewart, who serves on the House Intelligence Committee, said, “We have to have to have a relationship with some players that we don’t agree with. Journalists disappear all over the country. 20 journalists have been killed in Mexico. You don’t think it happens in Turkey and China? Of course it does. And yet we have to have a relationship with these individuals, or with these countries.” The comments echoed those made by Trump, who told reporters last month, “I’m not going to destroy the world economy and I’m not going to destroy the economy for our country by being foolish with Saudi Arabia.” Earlier on Tuesday, Republican senators who attended a classified briefing from CIA Director Gina Haspel on Khashoggi’s killing emerged more confident than ever that MBS was guilty. “No question in my mind. I had almost no question before. I have no question whatsoever now,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) said, “that the crown prince directed the murder and was kept apprised of the situation all the way through.”
For Chris Stewart, it is apparently just a normal risk of the job of being a journalist that you could end up being murdered by the Crown Prince of an ally of the United States. Chris Stewart doesn’t seem to think the American people should care about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
But, the American people should care. Jamal Khashoggi graduated from Indiana State University. He has not lived in Saudi Arabia for 15 years. He lived in England then relocated to Virginia. His immigration status in the United States is as a legal permanent resident.
Finding out the truth about the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul and responding to it properly might seem to have little to do with the average American. Here’s why one diplomatic expert says the situation matters a lot.
Khashoggi was a legal permanent resident of the United States, Nicholas Burns said. “He’s a green card holder. He’s like lots of our relatives who first came to America who were in transition to become a citizen,” Burns said.
“We have an obligation to every American citizen, and we certainly have an obligation to green card holders to protect and defend them,” said Burns, a former career diplomat who worked in Democratic and Republican administrations.
Donald Trump and his sycophants in the Republican party do not want you to care about what happened to Jamal Khashoggi. Why is that? There are many reasons that could be surmised, ranging from pragmatic to troublesome to outright nefarious.
From a pragmatic standpoint, maybe Donald Trump doesn’t want public outcry to force him to do anything that could damage U.S.-Saudi relations. However, Donald Trump has been busy blasting our allies in Canada, Mexico, and Europe for the past year and a half. It’s hard to believe that Donald Trump would be legitimately concerned that he might damage relations with an ally.
Maybe he’s concerned about Saudi Arabia retaliating with regards to oil exports to the United States. However, the United States is far less dependent upon Saudi oil then in the past, and again, he was never concerned about Canada and Mexico retaliating with tariffs on American companies during the trade war he began.
A more troublesome reason could be that Donald Trump has a personal business relationship with Saudi Arabia. He has, of course, denied that he has a personal business relationship, but with hedged language:
For the record, I have no financial interests in Saudi Arabia (or Russia, for that matter). Any suggestion that I have is just more FAKE NEWS (of which there is plenty)!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 16, 2018
Notice the use of the word “in”. He has used this same qualifier in the past to deny business interests with Russia. But, just because a business interest might not be located “in” the other country, does not mean a business interest does not exist “with” the other country. Even Fox News shut down this lame denial by Trump:
Trump & Saudi Business:
•1991: Sold yacht to Saudi Prince
•2001: Sold 45th floor of Trump World Tower to Saudis
•Jun 2015: I love the Saudis…many in Trump Tower
•Aug 2015: "They buy apartments from me…Spend $40M-$50M"
•2017: Saudi lobbyists spent $270K at Trump DC hotel
— Fox News Research (@FoxNewsResearch) October 16, 2018
But, wait, there’s more:
Trump registered the companies in August 2015, shortly after launching his presidential bid, according to The Post.
The companies were registered under names such as THC Jeddah Hotel and DT Jeddah Technical Services, according to financial disclosure filings.
This would appear to show that Trump’s “in” qualifier may have also just been an outright lie.
But, wait, there’s even more:
Last year, the kingdom announced plans to invest $20 billion in a private U.S.-focused infrastructure fund managed by Blackstone Group, an investment firm led by CEO Stephen Schwarzman. Blackstone stock rose on the news. Earlier this year, Trump unveiled a $200 billion federal plan to fix the nation’s airports, roads, highways and ports, tapping private companies for help and selling off some government owned infrastructure.
Schwarzman, who celebrated his 70th birthday at the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, accompanied Trump on his visit to Saudi Arabia.
But, that is not all, because Donald Trump is not the only member of the Trump family with ties to Saudi Arabia. There is also his son-in-law Jared Kushner, and this is where the possible reason for Trump’s behavior starts to look nefarious.
A little over 6 months ago, it was reported that Jared Kushner had relayed classified information to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that may have helped the Saudi prince round up and arrest his political opponents.
Jared Kushner discussed classified information from the president’s daily briefing with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who bragged that he had Kushner “in his pocket,” The Intercept reported on Wednesday, citing an unnamed source.
Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, had access to the briefing, a highly sensitive intelligence update meant to be seen by only the president and his top advisers, before being stripped of his top-secret security clearance last month.
Before losing that access, Kushner was particularly interested in information about the Middle East, The Intercept reported, citing several former White House and US government officials.
Several sources told The Intercept that after the meeting, Salman told close confidants that Kushner had spilled the names of the Saudi royals “disloyal” to the prince — something Kushner’s camp denies strongly.
Salman told the United Arab Emirates crown prince about the meeting with Kushner, bragging that he had Kushner “in his pocket,” The Intercept reported, citing “a source who talks frequently to confidants of the Saudi and Emirati rulers.”
A week after the meeting, Salman began what has been described as a large-scale corruption crackdown, which has led to the arrests of more than 200 officials. According to the Intercept report, Saudi officials mentioned in the daily briefings were among those detained.
Why would Jared Kushner have done this? Well, Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr. look to have been involved with some shady deals with the Saudis and their UAE allies since the presidential campaign:
We as a nation must educate ourselves—and quickly. We're many steps and hundreds of millions of dollars behind Trump Sr., Trump Jr., Kushner, Cohen, Broidy, MBS, MBZ, and Erik Prince. And media too infrequently synthesizes what we know to keep it in our attention. (Image: Quartz) pic.twitter.com/hHCC7MyD2J
— Seth Abramson (@SethAbramson) October 14, 2018
The same Saudi Crown Prince who it was reported had Jared Kushner “in his pocket” also appears to have been involved in the operation to lure Jamal Khashoggi to Turkey to be murdered.
New reports published on Wednesday indicate that the Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman may have been involved in a plot to lure journalist and prominent Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi from Virginia back to Saudi Arabia.
A former US official told The Washington Post that the operation may have involved sending a 15-person squad on two private aircrafts that entered and departed from Turkey at different times. The alleged operation resembled a “rendition,” typically used to remove someone from one country and bring them to another for interrogation.
Months earlier, Khashoggi had received numerous phone calls from senior Saudi officials close to Prince Mohammed who offered him protection and other benefits if he returned to Saudi Arabia. Khashoggi told friends that he was wary of the offers, and believed the Saudi government could not be trusted to keep him safe, The Post reported.
Jared Kushner and Donald Trump have fostered close relations with this Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, against the advice of Senior U.S. Intelligence and Military officials:
Woodward claims that while senior U.S. intelligence officials believed that the most influential Saudi was the then-crown prince, former intelligence chief Mohammed bin Nayef, Kushner had a different reading of the situation.
“Kushner told Harvey he had important and reliable intelligence that the key to Saudi Arabia was the deputy crown prince, the charismatic 31-year-old Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS,” writes Woodward. Some intelligence chiefs in D.C. disagreed.
“The message from them was that Kushner better be careful,” Woodward wrote. “The real solid guy was the current crown prince, Mohammed bin Nayef, 57, who was known as MBN. He was the king’s nephew credited with dismantling Al-Qaida in the Kingdom as head of the Interior Ministry. Showing favoritism to the younger MBS would cause friction in the royal family,” he added.
Kushner and Harvey allegedly pushed for a major summit to be held in Saudi Arabia during Trump’s visit, as a way of bringing the American-Saudi relationship back to the center of U.S. foreign policy, and that MBS became their main point of contact for organizing the president’s arrival.
Woodward writes that Defense Secretary James Mattis was skeptical about Kushner’s suggestions, as were two other top administration officials: Then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and then-National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster (who was officially Harvey’s direct boss), both of whom, like Mattis, had extensive experience working in the Middle East.
Tillerson, who had worked with the Saudi leadership during his years as CEO of ExxonMobil, cautioned against Kushner’s wish of negotiating a number of large deals with MBS. Woodward writes that Tillerson also believed “engagement with MBS should be taken with a grain of salt. The U.S. could work hard on a summit, and in the end have nothing.”
Woodward adds that “no one supported the idea of a summit” in the spring of 2017, as Kushner was offering. Yet Kushner eventually got his way. With the president’s support, and despite the other senior officials’ objections, Kushner pushed for a visit to Saudi Arabia. “When it looked like they were close, Kushner invited MBS to the United States and brought him to the White House,” Woodward writes. The visit took place in March 2017, two months before Trump’s trip to the Middle East.
Woodward notes that MBS had lunch with Trump in the White House’s State Dining Room, which is usually reserved for meetings between the president and other foreign leaders. “This violated protocol, unsettling officials at the State Department and the CIA,” writes Woodward. “Lunch at the White House with the president for a middle-rank deputy crown prince was just not supposed to be done.”
Then there’s the matter of why Jamal Khashoggi drew the renewed ire of Saudi Arabia in 2016: he criticized Donald Trump:
Jamal Khashoggi has been banned from writing in newspapers, making TV appearances and attending conferences, Middle East Eye reports.
After Mr Khashoggi criticised Mr Trump’s Middle East policies at a Washington think-tank on 10 November, an official Saudi spokesman said he did not represent the Kingdom in a statement to the Saudi Press Agency.
This all leads to the million dollar question: just why Is Donald Trump attempting to deflect attention from the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, and possibly help cover-up details about the murder?
It may not just be Russia who has compromising information and/or an illegal relationship with the Trumps. It could also be Saudi Arabia.
And, like with Russia, there are many Republican politicians who are willing to look the other way.