Trump and Saudis Can't Be Allowed to Whitewash Khashoggi’s Brutal Murder
President Trump appears to be floating the proposition that Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered by “rogue killers," rather than on the orders of Saudi Arabia's rulers. And numerous news outlets reported last night that the Saudis are preparing a cover story indicating that the dissident journalist died during an interrogation by a rogue member of their intelligence service.
This new explanation contradicts earlier statements by Saudi officials that Khashoggi had left their consulate in Turkey unharmed, and wouldn't explain the 15 man hit team which Turkey claims entered the country to assassinate the journalist. So the Saudis will need Turkey to substantially alter their public statements and the United States will have to agree to go along with the charade.
President Trump's "rogue killers" comment yesterday may indicate that he is prepared to support the cover-up in order to maintain America's economic ties to the Kingdom.
New York Times: For the Trump administration, Mr. Khashoggi’s case risks top foreign policy priorities. Mr. Trump has repeatedly said he does not want to risk what he claims is $110 billion in arms sales to the Saudis. And ensuring Riyadh’s willingness to increase oil production so that coming sanctions on Iranian oil do not lead to a surge in gas prices has been at least as important.
However, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may have too much credibility at stake to join in the cover-up. Turkish officials have provided a detailed recap of the assassination including the presence of an autopsy specialist with a bone saw among the hit-team, and the existence of video and audio proof of the murder. It might be a bit embarrassing for them to walk-back their earlier statements even if the Saudis offer them economic incentives to do so.
In any case, its unlikely that anyone is going to believe the cover story even if Trump and Erdogan go along with it. It's like watching a murderer concoct an alibi with his mother in real-time... a bit pathetic.
And while President Trump may not care about his international credibility, America should. We have led the free world for decades, in part, because our allies could trust our word and that we stood for something beyond self-interest. That trust is a currency more valuable than any one arms deal with the Saudis.