It should come as little surprise, I suppose, that a president who routinely demeans the press and has contempt for First Amendment demonstrations should have nothing bad to say about a regime that allegedly tortured and executed, inside its own consulate, a journalist living in exile. Never mind that the agents of that regime who are believed to have murdered the journalist also reportedly dismembered his body, and spirited it out of the diplomatic compound.
If you think the case of Jamal Khashoggi is simply a Saudi thing, think again. His suspected murder, which allegedly took place in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul, could not have been carried out without the approval of the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman—the very same crown prince who pals around with Jared Kushner, President Donald J. Trump’s son-in-law, and who rules a country whose investments in the Trump and Kushner businesses have been significant.
Reporting yesterday on Trump’s business ties to the House of Saud, The Washington Post’s David A. Farenthold and Jonathan O’Connell reminded readers of these bon mots uttered by then-candidate Trump at a 2015 rally:
“Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million,” Trump told a crowd at an Alabama campaign rally in 2015. “Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.”
Yesterday, responding to news of Khashoggi’s likely murder, Trump said he had no intention of shutting down the deal he says he made with the Saudis for $110 billion worth of U.S. weapons. (Whether there’s actually a done deal for that large a weapons purchase is a matter of some dispute.) Why give the business to the Chinese or the Russians, he said. This was about American jobs, he contended.
And still, he made no condemnation of the kingdom’s alleged killing of the journalist, other than to say that he didn’t like it. “Again, this took place in Turkey, and to the best of our knowledge, Khashoggi is not a United States citizen. Is that right?” Trump said to reporters late on Thursday. Khashoggi, a regular contributor to The Washington Post, is a permanent resident of the U.S., having had to flee his native Saudi Arabia for his safety.
In other words, as long as it wasn’t one of our own citizens, have at your ex-pat journos, crown prince! Knock ’em all off, for all I care.
Fearing, I suppose that he can’t (at least not yet) get away with the kingdom’s tactics, Trump has instead trained his followers to believe that mainstream news outlets push “fake news” written and broadcast by liars otherwise known as journalists. They’re “the enemy of the people,” Trump has said, perhaps in the hope that a few of his followers might give the Khashoggi treatment to someone like CNN’s Jim Acosta.
Of course, Trump’s attempted poisoning of the popular mind with regard to the press serves another purpose: It diverts attention from his cabal’s Plunder Project™, the furtherance of which is his administration’s true purpose. The hatred stoked by Trump of media, of women, of black people, of brown people, of non-European immigrants—that’s all in the service of the Plunder Project™, and everybody on the GOP side of the ledger stands to reap a windfall, if not for their personal fortunes, then for political gain. That’s why the Koch brothers held their nose and supported Trump in the end. And look, Ryan Zinke’s really delivering for them over at Interior, shrinking those national monuments to allow extraction from and pipeline routes across public lands. So has, despite its disarray, the Environmental Protection Agency, with its deregulatory agenda. If you’re a member of the religious right, the federal courts are being delivered to you as I write.
And if you’re a Republican candidate for Congress, chances are you’re relying on Koch-network entities and donors to sustain your campaign, and evangelical foot soldiers to turn out the vote.
Then there’s Trump’s own private piece of the PlunderProject™, the Friends and Family Plunder Plan.
Just look at Jared Kushner, scion of a New Jersey family of real-estate barons, and one of the president’s top aides. In October of last year, Kushner made a surprise visit to Riyadh to meet with the crown prince. The two were reported to have stayed up together until 4 a.m. for a couple of nights, blue-skying world domination or something. The Intercept reported that Kushner shared with Salman the names of Saudis determined by U.S. intelligence services to be disloyal to the crown prince. It is presumed that Kushner gleaned that information from the President’s Daily Brief, to which he had access before his security clearance was revoked.
A week later, Mohammed bin Salman purged a number of princes from their positions in the kingdom, holding them hostage in the Riyadh Ritz Carlton. At least one of them, it was reported, was tortured. The crown prince, The Intercept reported, said he had Kushner “in my pocket.”
Six months later, Cadre, a company co-owned by Kushner, sought “an investment of at least $100 million from a private fund that receives much of its capital from the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates,” according to Bloomberg. Although the fund walked away from the deal in June, the attempt at the transaction is troubling—suggestive of a quid pro quo.
Now, CNN reports, the crown prince has reached out to Kushner to discuss the blame ascribed to his regime in the disappearance of Khashoggi, who never emerged from the Saudi consulate in Instabul last week after he entered in order to attend to some paperwork. The network reports that the crown prince denied any involvement in whatever circumstances led to the journalist’s disappearance. (Which makes one wonder if Kushner mentioned anything about Khashoggi, a royal family insider-turned-critic, in his list of disloyal Saudis.)
Then there’s Trump himself who, according to The New York Times, has been doing business with the Saudis for at least 20 years, ever “since he sold the Plaza Hotel to a partnership formed by a Saudi prince.” During the 2016 presidential campaign, The Washington Post reported, Trump registered eight new companies tied to a hotel investment in Saudi Arabia. Earlier in his relationship with the House of Saud, he did deals that look like Trump bailouts: the purchase of his “superyacht,” the Trump Princess, by Al-Waleed bin Talal for $20 million, as well as the sale of a Trump apartment to the Saudi government for $4.5 million.
Of course, Trump has business interests in Turkey, too, which could complicate things, seeing as it’s Turkish intelligence that is spilling what beans it has on Khashoggi’s fate.
But even Turkey’s leaders surely know that Saudi Arabia is the big favorite of Trump and his family. Just look at how the United States under Trump has been complicit in Saudi Arabia’s bombing of civilians in Yemen. And who can forget that “hands on the glowing orb” moment during Trump’s presidential visit to Riyadh, which marked his first visit to a foreign country as the U.S. commander-in-chief.
It is difficult to express just how dangerous a moment we have arrived at. The president is not only corrupt to his core, but willing to use the tools of authoritarianism to do his looting.
May the memory of Jamal Khashoggi live long in the American mind. It’s a warning.