The Slatest

New Republican Talking Point: Jamal Khashoggi Was No Angel

Jamal Khashoggi, looks on during a press conference in the Bahraini capital Manama, on December 15, 2014.
A general manager of Alarab TV, Jamal Khashoggi, looks on during a press conference in the Bahraini capital Manama, on December 15, 2014. MOHAMMED AL-SHAIKH/Getty Images

With the Saudi monarchy’s denials of responsibility for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi becoming harder and harder to believe as time goes on, the regime’s American defenders appear to be shifting to the time-honored tactic of suggesting that a victim of state-sanctioned violence had it coming.

Robert Costa and Karoun Demirjian of the Washington Post reported Friday on the “whispering campaign against Jamal Khashoggi that is designed to protect President Trump from criticism of his handling of the dissident journalist’s alleged murder.” Reportedly, House Republicans have been quietly sharing emails about Khashoggi’s background, but as the article notes, quite a few prominent conservative voices have hardly been whispering.

U.S. Senate candidate Corey Stewart of Virginia said on a local radio program that Khashoggi was “not a good guy himself.” Fox news anchor Harris Faulkner said on her show that Khashoggi was “tied to the Muslim Brotherhood.” The president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., retweeted a post about Khashoggi “tooling around Afghanistan with Osama Bin Laden.”

It is true that Khashoggi first made a name for himself by interviewing a young bin Laden and that he supported the jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan during the 1980s. Back then, of course, the United States supported it as well. It is also true that for at least a time early in his career he was associated with the Muslim Brotherhood and that he expressed support for political Islam as well as democracy. Far from a lifelong dissident, he had a complicated and at times close relationship to the Saudi royal family before emerging as one of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s most prominent critics.

This is all fascinating background about a complex person, but not really relevant to the questions of whether a journalist and U.S. resident was tortured and murdered by an authoritarian regime and whether the U.S. administration is helping that regime cover it up.