President Donald Trump all but suggested in the NBC interview aired Sunday that Saudi Arabia’s arm sales are more important to him than figuring out exactly what happened to Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. During the Meet the Press interview, Trump refused to directly answer a question from Chuck Todd about whether he will order the FBI to investigate Khashoggi’s death, which an independent U.N. report recommended last week. The president said that part of the reason why he’s not eager to order an investigation is because other countries in the region are guilty of worse crimes.
The death of Khashoggi has “been heavily investigated,” Trump said. When Todd asked who exactly had investigated the way Khashoggi died after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018, Trump replied: “By everybody. I mean … I’ve seen so many different reports.” When Todd pressed the issue, Trump went on to say that the Middle East is “a vicious, hostile place” as if he was justifying the inaction by claiming that Saudi Arabia’s neighbors are guilty of worse things than killing a journalist. “Iran’s killed many, many people a day. Other countries in the Middle East, this is a hostile place,” Trump said. “This is a vicious, hostile place. If you’re going to look at Saudi Arabia, look at Iran, look at other countries, I won’t mention names, and take a look at what’s happening. And then you go outside of the Middle East, and you take a look at what’s happening with countries.”
The president then proceeded to talk about the importance of Saudi Arabia as a trading partner for the United States. “I only say they spend $400 to $450 billion over a period of time, all money, all jobs, buying equipment,” the president said. “I’m not like a fool that says, ‘We don’t want to do business with them.’ And by the way, if they don’t do business with us, you know what they do? They’ll do business with the Russians or with the Chinese.” By using the figure, Trump was once again trotting out an inflated statistic that fact-checkers have pointed out is far higher than the official statistics.
Trump’s attitude toward the issue helps explain why he doesn’t seem to think it’s necessary to bring up Khashoggi’s death every time he talks to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The journalist’s death “really didn’t come up” when he talked to the crown prince earlier this week about rising tensions with Iran, Trump said.
The report released Wednesday by human rights expert Agnes Callamard concludes Khashoggi “has been the victim of a deliberate, premeditated execution, an extrajudicial killing for which the state of Saudi Arabia is responsible under international human rights law.” Callamard went on to write that there “is credible evidence warranting further investigation of high-level Saudi officials’ individual liability, including the crown prince’s.”