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Opinion Trump is brutal authoritarians’ best advocate

President Trump stops to talk to members of the media on Monday before walking across the South Lawn of the White House in Washington. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

President Trump is the best advocate the world’s worst human rights offenders and state-backed murderers could ever hope for. When it comes to international thugs, who include the United States’ enemies, they have no better friend than Trump.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has routinely received aid and assistance from Trump. During the campaign, Trump defended Putin’s alleged involvement in deaths of journalists. “There are a lot of killers. You think our country’s so innocent?” he told Bill O’Reilly. Since the election, Trump has been Putin’s go-to guy for casting doubt on Putin’s interference in U.S. elections. In Helsinki, Trump declared: “My people came to me. Dan Coats came to me, and some others. They said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.” (He later claimed he meant to say “why it would not be,” which makes absolutely no sense.) He told Lesley Stahl on Sunday, “They [the Russians] meddled. But I think China meddled, too.” (Stahl pointed out: “This is amazing. You are diverting the whole Russia thing.”)

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No one has received more enthusiastic advocacy from Trump than the world’s most infamous human rights abuser, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. “Great personality and very smart — good combination,” Trump said after the Singapore meeting. “I learned that he’s a very talented man. I also learned that he loves his country very much.” Last month at a rally in West Virginia, he gushed that “We fell in love, okay? No, really — he wrote me beautiful letters, and they’re great letters.”

Thus, Trump’s willingness this week to echo the Saudis’ denials of responsibility in the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is hardly unprecedented. He is well practiced in echoing the moral equivalence and out-and-out lies of brutal autocrats.

As Congress abdicates its role, columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. says voters must take up the role of checking President Trump. (Video: Adriana Usero/The Washington Post)

On Monday, after speaking with King Salman, Trump insisted, “I don’t want to get into his mind, but it sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers. Who knows? We’re going to try getting to the bottom of it very soon, but his was a flat denial.” Just like Putin, Salman can bet his denials will be taken as gospel by Trump. Before the day was out, reports circulated that the Saudis — who had insisted for more than a week that Khashoggi had left the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul — would confess that he was killed, but as part of a rogue operation. Gosh, Salman might not have been altogether candid with Trump.

The Saudis’ new defense apparently will be that, sure, they just grabbed Khashoggi and interrogated him (oh yes, and sent in a 15-person squad with a bone-saw in hand), but any killing was strictly off-limits. One can almost hear Trump declare, “The crown prince denies he knew anything about it!

I am reminded that Trump’s former campaign chairman, now-convicted felon Paul Manafort, infamously represented the “torturers’ lobby” before landing on the Trump team. His clientele included unsavory characters who others wouldn’t touch — “dictators, [guerrilla] groups, and despots with no regard for human rights — including one man responsible for mass amputations, and another who oversaw state-sanctioned rape.” Manafort got rich from representing such characters. Trump, by contrast, doesn’t charge for his services to the world’s thugs, at least not that we know of. Instead, he is paid back in praise and ego-stroking. (If the Trump family has financial interests to benefit, well, that’s just a bonus.)

Trump seems to relish providing cover for autocrats’ crimes, abuses and denials of the same. No calumny is too great, no lie too improbable for Trump to defend. O.J. Simpson’s lawyers were paragons of restraint by comparison. Trump is either the most gullible president we’ve had — or the most amoral. Maybe both.

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