Donald Trump appeared to side with Saudi Arabia in the presumed murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, saying that the kingdom denied having anything to do with his disappearance and speculating that it could have been the work of “rogue killers.”
Trump made the remarks on Monday while speaking to reporters, pushing back against the consensus that the Saudi government tortured and murdered the dissident after her entered a consulate in Turkey. As The Hill reported, Trump noted that his conversation with Saudi King Salman led him to doubt whether Saudi Arabia was involved.
“It sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers, who knows,” Trump said.
The theory had already been predicted by some experts who believed that the Saudi government would try to avoid blame by claiming that his murder was the work of rogue agents, The Hill noted.
Donald Trump appeared to accept the Saudi stance, noting that Salman gave a “flat denial” of the idea that the Saudi government ordered Khashoggi’s murder.
“The denial was very strong. It wasn’t like there was a question in his mind. The denial was very, very strong,” Trump said.
Many pushed back against Trump’s claim, saying it was dangerous to parrot the denials of the Saudi government despite what is described as overwhelming evidence that it was involved in Khashoggi’s presumed murder.
Trump sticks with Kremlin playbook regarding #Khashoggi murder. “Rogue killers” – offers alternative explanations with no evidence. Same game, whether it’s Russia election interference, Khashoggi – “could have been someone else?”
— Clint Watts (@selectedwisdom) October 15, 2018
Others including Washington Post columnist Brian Klaas believe that the Saudi leaders calculated that Trump’s “dictator worship” and his deep financial ties to Saudi Arabia would lead him against coming down hard on them for murdering Khashoggi.
The Saudis made a strategic calculation: Trump’s dictator worship; his personal financial ties to Saudi; and his hatred for the press—especially the Washington Post—meant he wouldn’t react harshly to them murdering a journalist. So far, they were right. https://t.co/8cIx1V6DZr
— Brian Klaas (@brianklaas) October 15, 2018
Donald Trump had similarly repeated claims made by Russian President Vladimir Putin that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, despite a consensus from U.S. intelligence agencies that Putin ordered interference with a goal of helping Trump to be elected.
Trump had already pushed back against calls to punish Saudi Arabia, noting that he did not want to interfere with a reported $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia.
“I don’t want to hurt jobs. I don’t want to lose an order like that,” he said (via Time). “There are other ways of punishing, to use a word that’s a pretty harsh word, but it’s true.”
Despite Donald Trump assertion that the murder could have been the work of “rogue killers,” Turkish officials say they have video and audio proof that Jamal Khashoggi was tortured and murdered in the Saudi consulate, where he was picking up paperwork needed to marry his fiancé. As The Hill noted, a group of 15 Saudi agents entered Turkey before Khashoggi’s disappearance and left after his presumed murder.