On Tuesday, President Donald Trump issued a truly bizarre statement that was ostensibly meant to address the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi but instead read like a proxy love letter to Saudi Arabia and its crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman.
Usually, the presidential statements that wind their way out of the White House are boring bits of policy meant to placate journalists who want the executive branch to at least say something recognizing a major issue. But Tuesday’s statement was peppered with exclamation points, and it was impossible not to read it in Trump’s voice.
“The world is a very dangerous place!” Trump’s statement began, and it got weirder from there. He began with some healthy whataboutism, comparing the disgusting human rights abuses of Iran to the relatively tame journalist-murdering of Saudi Arabia.
He then reminded readers that he got the Saudis to agree to invest $450 billion in the U.S. before finally turning to Jamal Khashoggi.
“The crime against Jamal Khashoggi was a terrible one,” Trump wrote. “[…] We have already sanctioned 17 Saudis known to have been involved in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi, and the disposal of his body.”
Then Trump parroted the Saudis’ talking points, saying that “representatives of Saudi Arabia say that Jamal Khashoggi was an ‘enemy of the state’ and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.”
But perhaps the real kicker was when Trump sided with the Saudis over his own intelligence agencies.
“Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event — maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” Trump wrote.
While distressing, it should be a familiar sight for the intelligence communities. After American agencies concluded that Russia meddled in the 2016 election, Trump instead stood next to the Russian president and said that he believed Vladimir Putin’s denials.
The president closed his statement by saying that he believes members of Congress who might seek to punish the Saudis are doing so “for political or other reasons,” and then he defended Saudi oil.
“Saudi Arabia is the largest oil producing nation in the world,” Trump wrote. “They […] have been very responsive to my requests to keeping oil prices at reasonable levels.”
In a blistering editorial, Khashoggi’s editor, Karen Attiah, wrote that “Trump is doing his best to help the Saudi regime get away with the murder of a U.S. resident.”
She titled her piece “Trump’s defense of Khashoggi’s Saudi murderers will stain him (and America) forever.”
Please note: This is a commentary piece. The views and opinions expressed within it are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the editorial opinion of IJR.