The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion After not colluding with Russia, Trump is now not colluding with Saudi Arabia

(Tom Toles)

There are two approaches when dealing with a crime. One approach is finding all the facts, getting the facts out and holding the guilty responsible. And then there is coming up with a story you can get away with.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I think I know which of those ways this sounds like: “The Trump administration and the Saudi royal family are searching for a mutually agreeable explanation for the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi — one that will avoid implicating Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is among the president’s closest foreign allies, according to analysts and officials in multiple countries.”

What does one even make of the fact that this appears to be what is happening? It would sound a lot like collusion, if such a thing existed anymore.

This is not what could happen if somebody like Donald Trump got elected. It is not even what might happen if Trump is in office long enough to corrupt every branch, stem and twig of the U.S. government. It is the reality now, and it stinks. The smell is apparently what Trump is referring to when he boasts how “strong” he is.

Because something sure doesn’t smell right here. Yes, we have “complicated” relations with the Saudis and always have, at least since we decided not to attempt rehab for our oil addiction. And yes, the personage of Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman is also complicated. Is he a “reformer?” A “murderer?” Or just another “autocratic buddy” of Trump’s? Whatever he is, something extremely peculiar is going on.

Trump has claimed that he can do science by “instinct,”  but he should be aware that people gauge honesty by instinct, too. You can pile up the fact-checks to the sky, and many people won’t be swayed. They look for tells.

Trump on some level believes most of his own lies, and therefore they come across as sincere. But every once in a while he is so far out on a cracking limb that even he knows what he is dishing is an absolute crock. The facts must on some level be as bad as they look, because the delay in coming up with a story line has already gone on a damning length of time. And you know that Trump’s concern is not with the Saudis. It is, as always, with himself. His actions and words strongly suggest that there is something in his relationship with the Saudis that has put him in an untenable spot. Any investigation needs to discover what that relationship consists of. For now, Trump is clearly just playing for time.

As he once again commits his country to playing with fire.