Donald Trump’s first official visit, just 24 hours after his inauguration, was to the CIA. A highly unusual location for a first appearance, Trump, still wearing his overcoat indoors, stood before a sacred symbol to address his audience, the marble wall marked with stars, each one representing the loss of those in service to the CIA.
Trump then launched into an equally surprising speech, where he bragged about crowd size during his campaign, criticized the media, then praised General Michael Flynn, his short-lived National Security Advisor who was sitting in the audience – and is now awaiting sentencing in the investigation by the Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller. The appearance was more about Trump than the CIA. It was more about building himself up rather than bolstering the agency.
A few months later, in May 2017, Trump went on his first state visit to…Saudi Arabia – a choice as equally unusual as his appearance at the CIA. Trump is the first American head of state ever to travel to Saudi Arabia for his first state visit. In fact, historically, American presidents have traveled to Canada or Mexico, our closest allies and neighbors in North America, for their first state trip. But not Trump. His visit to Saudi Arabia, filled with pomp and circumstance, included a series of meetings with King Salman, attended by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, that resulted in a signed weapons deal between the two countries.
Now, almost two years later, those two unusual first visits have collided in the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
The murder of Khashoggi, a Saudi Arabian journalist and a permanent American resident, occurred in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, during a visit to obtain documents to marry his fiancée.
Last week, the CIA issued their report that concluded with “high confidence” that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s murder, directly contradicting previous claims of innocence from the Saudis. Some of the evidence that led to this conclusion included an audio recording of Khashoggi’s murder obtained by a device placed by the Turks in the consulate and provided to CIA Director Gina Haspel.
Every American should question why Trump is willing to give a pass to Mohammed bin Salman for assassinating an American resident.
Immediately after the CIA report was released, Trump and the Saudis rejected its findings. Trump said the CIA "did not come to a conclusion" about the crown prince's involvement in the murder, despite the CIA’s “high confidence” finding. Prince Turki Al-Faisal, a longtime Saudi intelligence chief, said about the report, “The CIA has been proved wrong before.” It is yet another example of Trump siding with a foreign government against our American government.
Trump also used economic arguments in an effort to justify his support of the Saudis. First, he cited the U.S. arms deals with Saudi Arabia as a key reason for maintaining our alliance, purchased from American companies and the jobs associated with it. Then Trump shifted his reasoning to oil prices and keeping gas prices in check. Is there now a price tag on the life of an American resident? Or American values? Is it a transaction? Really?
And what is the connection between Trump and Saudi Arabia? The list of countries and questionable leaders that Trump appears to be indebted to seems to grow daily – from Russia and Putin, China and Xi, and now Saudi Arabia and Mohammed bin Salman.
The conduct of other members of the Trump administration have raised questions as well. We know Jared Kushner visited Saudi Arabia twice, once just before the imprisonment of members of the Saudi royal family and more recently in October, just before Khashoggi’s death. There have been published reports that suggested Kushner may have shared intelligence with Mohammed bin Salman revealing family members who opposed him, leading to their imprisonment. Furthermore, Secretary of State Pompeo visited Saudi Arabia and Mohammed bin Salman after Khashoggi’s killing. In a jovial joint appearance Pompeo refused to say to the press whether he discussed the killing with the crown prince. Last week, after Trump denied the claims by the CIA, Pompeo also declined to implicate bin Salman, stating it’s a “mean nasty world out there.”
Now, in the wake of these counter claims, we learn that the CIA has a tape with Mohammed bin Salman ordering Khashoggi’s death. In the recording captured on a CIA wiretap, Mohammed bin Salman is reportedly giving instructions to his brother, Khaled bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, to “silence Jamal Khashoggi as soon as possible,” according to the Hürriyet Daily News.
Will this new information implicating Mohammed bin Salman stop Trump from meeting with him at the G-20 in Argentina this week? While other countries have stopped selling weapons to the Saudis among other rebukes for Khashoggi’s killing, Trump and members of his administration embrace him. Why? Trump seems impervious to criticism when it comes to meetings with Putin and it is unlikely that will change with the Saudi crown prince. But why?
Every American should question why Trump is willing to give a pass to Mohammed bin Salman for assassinating an American resident. Every American should question whether the life of an American resident is worth the price of a weapon or gasoline. And if that is the case, then every American should be outraged.
If it’s not the case, the answer may be something even more sinister. Is there a relationship between Trump and the Saudis we don’t know that is influencing him to side with them and against our own intelligence agency? Every American deserves an answer to that question.