Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) on Tuesday defended President Trump’s response to the killing of Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi, telling a CNN host, “Journalists disappear all over the country.”
Khashoggi was killed by a team of Saudi agents inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October. Trump and senior members of his administration, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, have insisted that no single piece of evidence irrefutably links Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the killing.
Several senators stated after a closed-door briefing by CIA Director Gina Haspel on Tuesday that the evidence overwhelmingly points to the crown prince’s involvement.
But Stewart echoed Trump, telling CNN’s Brianna Keilar that “no one can say” for certain what happened and maintaining that it is in U.S. interests not to allow the relationship with Saudi Arabia to rupture.
“We have to have a relationship with some players that we don’t agree with,” Stewart said. “Journalists disappear all over the country. Twenty journalists have been killed in Mexico. You don’t think it’s happened in Turkey and China? Of course it does. And yet, we have to have a relationship with these individuals, or with these countries.”
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 45 journalists were killed in 2018 because of their work; Reporters Without Borders estimates that more were killed in the first nine months of this year than in all of 2017.
Asked for comment on Stewart’s remarks, his office released a statement emphasizing that the lawmaker supports both defending human rights and preserving relationships with key allies.
“We cannot brush aside the murder of any journalist and I have always said that those who are responsible for the murder of Mr. Khashoggi should be held responsible,” Stewart said in the statement.
“As the leader of the free world, we have to accomplish two goals; defend human rights while also attempting to maintain important relationships with key allies that we hope will help us bring stability to critical parts of the world. We should always strive to do both.”
Shane Harris, Karoun Demirjian and Emily Rauhala contributed to this report.