Members Only | October 18, 2018 | Reading Time: 5 minutes
Will Trump Side with a Cold-Blooded Killer?
In a way, we're going to see a repeat of Helsinki before the midterms.
Donald Trump keeps saying that he wants more proof before condemning outright the Saudis for killing, beheading, and dismembering Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi. But the president can’t hold that tenuous position for long.
For one thing, the US had been alerted, according to the Wall Street Journal. It reported Wednesday that Turkey had “shared evidence in recent days, including the details of an audio recording, with both the US and Saudi Arabia to support their conclusion.” It said Khashoggi “wasn’t interrogated.” He was seized immediately on entering the building. The implication is that his murder was premeditated.
All of this appears to have taken place before the president told the AP that:
“I think we have to find out what happened first.”
For another, American spy agencies are increasingly convinced that the 15 killers, including the autopsy specialist who wore earphones to cover up the sound of his cutting Khashoggi to pieces, were linked to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MbS. The 33 year old runs the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
US and European intelligence agencies have not found direct evidence of the prince’s involvement, nor have they found evidence that he ordered Khashoggi’s death. But they do have circumstantial evidence, such as intercepts showing Saudi officials planning to detain Khashoggi in Istanbul. Then there’s this fundamental fact:
Officials have also said the prince’s complete control over the security services makes it highly unlikely that an operation would have been undertaken without his knowledge.
The Post reported yesterday that US and Saudi officials are trying to find a way for the kingdom to take some responsibility for Khashoggi’s murder without implicating directly the young prince who appears to have ordered it. This isn’t the first time the US has been mired in the morally intolerable, but as Sean Illing noted, this might be the first time it’s been involved in “a high profile murder cover up.”
That matters, politically. War crimes and human rights atrocities tend to be too abstract to be coherent. While the war in Yemen is a textbook humanitarian disaster, it’s not getting attention here in the states. But the US media is unlikely to let go of one man’s death, under a cloud of doubt, told in grisly detail. “The death of one man is a tragedy,” Josef Stalin is alleged to have said. “The death of millions is a statistic.”
It’s in this context that the intel community is preparing an assessment. Depending on its conclusions, the effort has the makings of what happened over the summer in Helsinki. That’s when the president of the United States took the word of a foreign adversary over that of men and women dedicated to serving and protecting the US. James Comey, whom Trump fired, urged voters to vote for Democrats in the fall. “All who believe in this country’s values must vote for Democrats this fall,” Comey said. “Policy differences don’t matter right now. History has its eyes on us.”
The president’s handlers are no doubt prepared to prevent as much as possible a repeat of Helsinki. For some time afterward that, the news media was chock full of stories denouncing the president and asking whether he had committed treason. Senate Republicans were backpedaling wildly for days.
As the midterms approach, this is something Republicans are keen to avoid, as some in the Senate are seeing some breathing room created by the confirmation Brett Kavanaugh (the House is a different matter) and they do not want to spend their limited time dancing on the line between loyalty to the president and loyalty to the country. This president has a habit of getting himself, and his party, in trouble when it comes to any foreign relations. That goes double for an international crisis.
Will they succeed? Perhaps, but history isn’t on their side. Donald Trump is Donald Trump. Moreover, as I argued yesterday, he’s deeply entangled in the kingdom, having been on the receiving end of tens of millions of dollars in deals.
We don’t know the extent to which Trump is tied up in Saudi interests. He did not ever release his tax returns. But as John Cassidy noted, the president’s go-to strategy, when he perceives that his interests are in peril, is to say something outrageous. That could mean siding with premeditated murder right before the midterms.
Women dislike Kavanaugh
Late last week, the Post released the results of a survey showing that 43 percent of Americans believe that Supreme Court rulings will more politically motivated with Brett Kavanaugh on the court. Thirty-nine percent he won’t make a difference.
This isn’t surprising. The Republican operative-turned-federal jurist was confirmed by the narrowest margin since the 1880s. His 50-48 Senate confirmation will dog him for the rest of his life, and it will imperil the court’s legitimacy for decades.
As much as Chief John Roberts would prefer that all of us continue to see the court as impartial, partisanship was baked into the jurisprudential cake on Day 1.
The Post/ABC News survey went on to say that slightly more respondents are more inclined to vote after the Kavanaugh fiasco. The response from women and independents suggests the Democrats have a path forward after taking the House.
Fifty-five percent of independents say there should be further investigations into allegations that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford. Women, meanwhile, are drawn to Democratic candidates by a 16-point margin.
No surprise to see two leading Democratic women opening the door for more investigations into Kavanaugh’s alleged crimes. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said during a debate Wednesday that:
“Oh, I’d be in favor of opening up the allegations. Absolutely.”
Nancy Pelosi, who might be the next speaker, said in a letter:
“The FBI’s supplemental background investigation appears to have been significantly limited in scope to ensure that a thorough investigation would not take place, numerous witnesses would not be questioned, and numerous questions would not be asked. The public must know what limitations were imposed on the FBI and who imposed them, so this never happens again.”
Senate forecast update
Chris Luongo, the Editorial Board’s elections forecaster, thinks that the Republicans now have a better chance of holding on to the United States Senate. Heidi Heitkamp, in North Dakota, is in trouble. Phil Bredesen, in Tennessee, is trailing Marsha Blackburn. Meanwhile, Claire McCaskill, in Missouri, is now in a toss up race.
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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition open and available to all. Find him @johnastoehr.