The Slatest

Trump Would Rather Downplay Possible Murder of Jamal Khashoggi Than Jeopardize Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia

Donald Trump in profile
President Donald Trump in Erie, Pennsylvania, on Wednesday.
MANDEL NGAN/Getty Images

President Trump is worried that the U.S. response to Saudi Arabia over the disappearance and possible murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi might crimp American arm sales to the kingdom, which could be jeopardized if Congress and the White House impose sanctions.

“I don’t like stopping massive amounts of money that is being poured into our country,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Thursday. “I know they are talking about different kinds of sanctions, but [the Saudis] are spending $110 billion on military equipment and on things that create jobs for this country. I don’t like the concept of stopping an investment of $110 billion into the United States.”

U.S. intelligence has determined that the government of Saudi Arabia, at the direction of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, planned to get Khashoggi out of the U.S. and into Saudi Arabia, according to the Washington Post.

U.S. intelligence has determined that the government of Saudi Arabia, at the direction of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, planned to get Khashoggi out of the U.S. and into Saudi Arabia, according to the Washington Post, and then detain him there. Before he disappeared into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last week, “senior Saudi officials close to the crown prince had called Khashoggi to offer him protection, and even a high-level job working for the government, if he returned to his home country.”

But Khashoggi doubted their sincerity and, it seems, the Saudi government needed to resort to more extreme efforts to get their critic out of the relative safety of the U.S.

None of the intelligence reviewed by the Post showed a plan to kill Khashoggi, leading many to conclude that if he were killed—as alleged by Turkish officials—it was part of an interrogation or kidnapping attempt gone wrong. But even so, the intelligence that Saudi Arabia wanted to get Khashoggi was “disseminated throughout the U.S. government and was contained in reports that are routinely available to people working on U.S. policy toward Saudi Arabia,” the Post reported, thus raising the question of what senior officials like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo or Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats knew about the plan.

But the most consequential question is what, if anything, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner knew about the plot or bin Salman’s role in it. Kushner is close to his fellow prince and has reportedly taken charge of much of the Trump administration’s relationship with Saudi Arabia and with bin Salman specifically. Getting the Saudis to agree to buy $110 billion worth of weapons and military equipment was one of the signature accomplishments of Trump and Kushner’s outreach.

“Kushner and Mohammed have had private, one-on-one phone calls that were not always set up through normal channels so the conversations could be memorialized and Kushner could be properly briefed,” the Post reported, and “Kushner’s relationship with Mohammed … has long been the subject of suspicion by some American intelligence officials.”