Politics

Democrats Pan Trump’s Deference to Saudi King on Journalist’s Disappearance

President again siding with authoritarian leaders over U.S. intelligence officials, lawmakers say

Sens. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., left, and Tim Kaine, D-Va., criticized President Donald Trump for seeming to agree with Saudi King Salman’s denial of his government’s involvement in journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Democratic lawmakers criticized President Donald Trump on Monday for seeming to siding with Saudi King Salman, who denied during a phone call with the president that his government was involved in the disappearance of a Washington Post journalist. 

Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was born in Saudi Arabia, has been critical of Salman in his writings. He has not been seen or heard from since entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.

U.S. intelligence officials suspect the Saudis were involved in Khashoggi’s disappearance and alleged murder. 

But Trump told reporters after speaking with Salman that “rogue killers” may be at fault. He said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is heading to the kingdom to investigate the matter. 

“The king firmly denied any knowledge of it,” Trump said. “He didn’t really know.  Maybe — I don’t want to get into his mind — but it sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers.”

Democrats were outraged that Trump would make such a claim. 

“President Trump’s suggestion that Khashoggi’s elaborately planned murder in the Saudi’s own consulate was orchestrated by ‘rogue killers’ defies reality,” Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen said in a statement. “Orders must have come from the top. The U.S. must not be complicit in an effort to cover-up this heinous crime.”

Connecticut Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, who serves on the Foreign Relations Committee, said in a tweet that he had been hearing the Saudis would push the “rogue killers” theory.

“Absolutely extaordinary [sic] they were able to enlist the President of the United States as their PR agent to float it,” he tweeted.

House Intelligence ranking member Adam B. Schiff compared Trump’s willingness to believe Salman to his apparent readiness to accept Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denial that the Kremlin interfered in the 2016 U.S. election as well as denials of sexual assault by Alabama Republican Roy Moore and current Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh.

“In the President’s world, the truth doesn’t matter,” the California Democrat said. “Admission is weakness. Denial is everything. The more vehement the better. But don’t ask Trump. He denies it.”

Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, another Foreign Relations member, said Trump’s response “reveals a man more willing to trust authoritarian leaders than reliable intelligence,” noting, “It’s insulting to Jamal’s family and colleagues that this is what’s coming out of the world’s most powerful office.”

California Rep. Jackie Speier, an Intelligence Committee member, said Trump’s undermining of the intelligence community’s assessment isn’t just a problem for finding justice for Khashoggi.

“POTUS is siding with a foreign entity on a world security matter!” she tweeted. 

Another Intelligence Committee member succinctly summed up how incredulous Democrats were at Trump’s response after talking to Salman.

“People don’t usually admit to murder the first time you ask them,” Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro tweeted. 

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