President Trump offered embattled Saudi Arabia a suggestion of support Tuesday amid mounting pressure over the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, saying the kingdom is being judged “guilty until proven innocent.”
The remarks, in an interview with the Associated Press, put Trump widely out of step with many world leaders amid Turkish assertions that Khashoggi was killed by a Saudi hit team this month after entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
Three days before Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrived in the United States earlier this year for a nationwide tour, another Saudi traveler who identifies online as a member of the Saudi Royal Guard also arrived in Washington, passport records show. His stay overlapped with that of the prince.
Two times before that, this traveler had made other trips to the United States that coincided with visits by top members of the Saudi royal family, including King Salman and another one of his sons.
That same traveler, Khalid Aedh Alotaibi, has now appeared on a list provided by Turkish officials of 15 Saudis who Turkey alleges participated in the disappearance and alleged killing of prominent journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi Consulate on Oct. 2. On Tuesday, Turkish officials provided passport scans for seven members of what they called a hit squad, and that information helped confirm Alotaibi’s travels to Washington.
Alotaibi is one of 11 Saudis included on the list who have ties to the Saudi security services, according to their posts on social media, emails, local media reports and other material reviewed by The Washington Post.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who used to criticize Democratic secretaries of state for their willingness to be bamboozled by foreign leaders, appeared in Riyadh with a wide grin plastered on his face. Pumping the crown prince’s hand as though he was an old pal, Pompeo seemed to be there to deliver an escape route for the Saudis, not to hold them accountable for Khashoggi’s disappearance. (” ‘We are strong and old allies,’ Mohammed told Pompeo before reporters were ushered out. ‘We face our challenges together — the past, the day of, tomorrow.’ Pompeo replied with enthusiasm: ‘Absolutely.’ “) That stomach-turning display of camaraderie with the de facto leader of the thuggish regime is how we got to this spot in the first place — excessive trust, insufficient accountability. We look foolish and feeble, making excuses for a corrupt and violent regime that feels it can act with impunity.

The administration’s backing of a Saudi investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance from the Saudi Consulate is akin to cheering O.J. Simpson as he looks for the “real killers” of his ex-wife. Instead of buying into the Saudis’ cock-and-bull story that this was an interrogation and rendition operation that was not intended to murder Khashoggi, Trump should be demanding an independent investigation.

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(Gillian Brockell)

The Saudi story makes little sense. For starters, since when is it acceptable to kidnap an individual using one’s diplomatic compound as shelter? Beyond that, no one other than Trump could believe that a 15-person delegation with a bone-saw-carrying forensic specialist could jet in and out of Turkey and utilize the Saudi diplomatic offices without permission of high-level officials. Moreover, how does an interrogation get botched to such a degree — if this is the so-called defense — that someone dies? Surely, the Saudi team wouldn’t risk hacking up a journalist and bringing his remains back to a kingdom ruled with an iron hand unless they were awfully certain that the regime had their backs. Nevertheless, Trump wants to look for suspects!

While Pompeo and Trump want to provide plausible deniability for the Saudis, American business leaders as well as House and Senate leaders in both parties do not. The conduct of the Saudis was so outrageous that Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) momentarily forgot his role as favorite Trump sycophant. He chatted with Fox News hosts on Tuesday, calling the Saudi crown prince “toxic” and insisting, “This guy has got to go.”

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (Md.), the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN: “There’s going to be consequences, and we’re going to take action. We’re an independent branch of government. We’ve shown that before with our relationship with Russia, we’ve shown it with North Korea, and we’ll show it here with Saudi Arabia.” Likewise, Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) condemned Trump’s participation in a “Saudi-led coverup and whitewash,” which is “undermining the credibility of the United States.”

Trump has a long history of embracing and spreading this sort of nonsense (birtherism, President Barack Obama bugging Trump Tower, Russian denials of meddling in U.S. elections) while refusing to accept established facts that he doesn’t understand or want to acknowledge (e.g. a trade deficit isn’t an invoice, climate change is real, and immigrants commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans).

In fact, the entire right-wing universe — from talk radio to Fox New parrots to intellectually corrupted groups to passive (or equally dishonest) lawmakers to pundits who should know better but can’t bring themselves to criticize Trump — is designed to perpetuate an information bubble wherein only Trump-approved facts enter. It’s how most totalitarians operate, which goes a long way toward explaining Trump’s affinity for the world’s strongmen.

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