The guy might not be dead. He might be running a bicycle repair shop in Oslo or something, with Elvis. Who knows? No one knows. Don’t jump to conclusions. But don’t be stupid. President Trump had to give up and he acknowledged reality, as the Washington Post’s Erin Cunningham and John Wagner report here:
President Trump said Thursday it appears that Jamal Khashoggi is dead and warned that his administration could consider “very severe” measures against Saudi Arabia, sharply raising pressures on the kingdom as it prepares its own accounting of the journalist’s disappearance.
He didn’t want to do that, but he had to do that:
Trump’s remarks reflect the vacillating strategies and views in the White House over its response and possible punishments toward one of its key Middle East allies. Trump has said any U.S. actions over Khashoggi’s disappearance must take into account the security and defense ties the United States has with the kingdom. But Trump also must contend with the international furor and calls within Republican ranks to take a harder line on Saudi Arabia.
So that’s what he did:
As he boarded a flight to Montana for a political rally, Trump was asked by a journalist whether he believed Khashoggi was dead.
“It certainly looks that way to me,” he said. “It’s very sad.”
He added that Saudi Arabia could face a “very severe” U.S. response depending on the results of probes that include a self-run investigation by the kingdom into the disappearance of Khashoggi.
That seems to be heading in this direction:
A person close to the White House said Saudi officials are considering blaming Khashoggi’s death on Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri, the deputy head of Saudi intelligence and a close adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Assiri would be accused of mounting a rogue operation to kill Khashoggi, which would deflect blame from the crown prince, who is the de facto ruler of the kingdom. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak on behalf of the administration or the Saudi government.
But of course no one is going to believe that:
In an interview with the New York Times on Thursday afternoon, Trump expressed confidence in intelligence reports from multiple sources that strongly suggest a high-level Saudi role in Khashoggi’s assassination.
“Unless the miracle of all miracles happens, I would acknowledge that he’s dead,” Trump said. “That’s based on everything, on intelligence coming from every side.”
So the miracle of all miracles is not going to happen:
The comments point to a possible tougher stance by the White House after it sent a range of conflicting signals. In the past week, Trump left open the idea that “rogue killers” had carried out an attack on Khashoggi, and also warned against a rush to judgment about the Saudi rulers.
Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, who has cultivated a relationship with Mohammed, has been urging Trump to stand by the Saudis and let them conduct their own investigation, according to two people in regular contact with the White House.
That would be this:
Mr. Kushner has argued that the outrage over Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance and possible killing will pass, just as it did after other Saudi errors like the kidnapping of the prime minister of Lebanon and the killing of a busload of children in Yemen by a Saudi airstrike.
So the Saudis make errors. Everyone makes errors. This is no big deal. Or it won’t seem like a big deal next week. Cut the Saudis some slack. It’s like when some white cop shoots an unarmed nine-year-old black kid sixty-seven times, in the back. There’s outrage, and then it goes away. The police investigate their own and then they fully exonerate their own – and the nation, or most of the nation, accepts that. Kushner was making the same argument. Give it a rest. Let the Saudis do their investigations. It’s like the cop and the dead kid. They were there. No one else was. They will explain what happened. Who else would know? There will be a report. This will blow over.
That seems unlikely now:
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has heard an alleged audio recording of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, according to a senior Turkish official.
Speaking exclusively and on condition of anonymity to ABC News, the official claimed the recording was played in meetings in Turkey on Wednesday, and that Pompeo was given a transcript of the recordings.
Separately, ABC News has also learned that Turkish officials believe that Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi consulate following a struggle that lasted eight minutes and that they believe he died of strangulation.
The White House referred questions to the State Department which denied Pompeo had heard the recording or seen a transcript.
But that may not be the case:
Yesterday, on his way back from Istanbul, Pompeo was asked if he had heard the audio.
“I don’t have anything to say about that,” he said.
Mike Pompeo is a careful man and he did his talking elsewhere:
President Trump has been publicly asking to hear the recording. Pompeo met with the president at the White House on Thursday morning to brief him on his visit to Turkey and Saudi Arabia, where he met with Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman.
It is unknown whether Pompeo shared the transcript with the president, but soon after the meeting the president changed his tune.
While earlier in the week the president questioned whether the audio recording existed and cautioned against blaming Saudi Arabia for Khashoggi’s disappearance, on Thursday afternoon his administration abruptly canceled a visit to Saudi Arabia by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to attend a large investment conference hosted by the Crown Prince, whom Turkish officials have reportedly claimed was behind Khashoggi’s killing.
Later in the day, Trump told reporters that “it certainly looks like” Khashoggi was dead.
Pompeo must have told Trump what he heard on the tape, and all is not well in Trumpland:
Judge Andrew Napolitano said the Trump administration may have to take drastic action after the suspected murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in Turkey.
Speaking on “Fox & Friends” Thursday, Napolitano was asked about what President Trump can do to respond. He said if the suspects are identified, FBI agents could lawfully kidnap them in order to try them for a U.S. federal crime.
“It can happen,” he said, explaining a judge ruled during the Reagan administration that it did not matter how the suspects were apprehended.
That was the nastiest of far-right judges, retired but still angry at everything, speaking on Trump’s favorite television show – his morning briefing on the state of everything everywhere. The nastiest of far-right judges was telling this president to get it together for a change:
He emphasized that the allegedly gruesome murder of Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul cannot go unanswered by the United States.
“The president has to put this fire out. The behavior is so morally repellent, so totally and universally, except perhaps in Saudi government, unacceptable that he has to do something,” said Napolitano, adding that the administration has many factors to weigh with regard to the relations with the Saudis.
Judge Napolitano told his favorite president that it was time to acknowledge reality:
Napolitano said Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has been applauded for some of his social reforms, but he also is alleged to have “kidnapped wealthy Saudis and had them beaten to within an inch of their lives until they turned billions in assets over to the government” in 2017.
“What kind of reform is that?” he asked, suggesting bin Salman could be replaced by one of his brothers who would presumably be “less reckless.”
It was time to acknowledge reality, but Judge Napolitano didn’t get the memo:
Hardline Republicans and conservative commentators are mounting a whispering campaign against Jamal Khashoggi that is designed to protect President Trump from criticism of his handling of the dissident journalist’s alleged murder by operatives of Saudi Arabia – and support Trump’s continued aversion to a forceful response to the oil-rich desert kingdom.
In recent days, a cadre of conservative House Republicans allied with Trump has been privately exchanging articles from right-wing outlets that fuel suspicion of Khashoggi, highlighting his association with the Muslim Brotherhood in his youth and raising conspiratorial questions about his work decades ago as an embedded reporter covering Osama bin Laden, according to four GOP officials involved in the discussions who were not authorized to speak publicly.
Those aspersions – which many lawmakers have been wary of stating publicly because of the political risks of doing so – have begun to flare into public view as conservative media outlets have amplified the claims, which are aimed in part at protecting Trump as he works to preserve the U.S.-Saudi relationship and avoid confronting the Saudis on human rights.
So the good guy was really a bad guy:
While Khashoggi was once sympathetic to Islamist movements, he moved toward a more liberal, secular point of view, according to experts on the Middle East who have tracked his career. Khashoggi knew bin Laden in the 1980s and 1990s during the civil war in Afghanistan, but his interactions with bin Laden were as a journalist with a point of view who was working with a prized source.
Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen, left his home country last year and was granted residency in the United States by federal authorities. He lived in Virginia and wrote for The Washington Post.
Nevertheless, the smears have escalated. Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son and key political booster, shared another person’s tweet last week with his millions of followers that included a line that Khashoggi was “tooling around Afghanistan with Osama bin Laden” in the 1980s, even though the context was a feature story on bin Laden’s activities.
A Tuesday broadcast of CR-TV, a conservative online outlet founded by popular talk-radio host Mark Levin, labeled Khashoggi a “longtime friend” of terrorists and claimed without evidence that Trump was the victim of an “insane” media conspiracy to tarnish him…
“Trump wants to take a soft line, so Trump supporters are finding excuses for him to take it,” said William Kristol, a conservative Trump critic. “One of those excuses is attacking the person who was murdered.”
And that is a problem:
Several Trump administration aides are aware of the Khashoggi attacks circulating on Capitol Hill and in conservative media, the GOP officials said, adding that aides are being careful to not encourage the disparagement but are also doing little to contest it.
This will get tricky when Fox News shuts down Judge Napolitano and goes wall-to-wall all day with the “word out there” that Jamal Khashoggi was really a terrorist, carrying on the work of Osama bin Laden, so he should have been tortured and killed and dismembered. He deserved that. Saudi Arabia did the world a favor – and when Donald Trump starts saying that “he heard” that Jamal Khashoggi was actually a cold-blooded killer-terrorist then all bets are off.
President Donald Trump on Thursday openly praised Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.) for assaulting a reporter in his bid for Congress last year, as the United States faced an unfolding crisis over missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who is believed to have been killed by Saudi Arabian agents.
The remarks from Trump at a campaign rally – staged at an airport hangar here with a mountainous backdrop – drew boisterous cheers from the conservative crowd, who applauded as Trump noted of Gianforte: “By the way, never wrestle him.”
“Any guy that can do a body slam, he’s my kind of – he’s my guy,” Trump said.
Gianforte pleaded guilty to assaulting Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, an altercation that occurred in the final days of Gianforte’s special election race in May 2017 when Jacobs tried to interview him about the GOP health-care plan. The then-candidate grabbed Jacobs, threw him to the ground and punched him. Gianforte subsequently won the special election, and later pleaded guilty, receiving a six-month deferred sentence.
Trump said that just a few hours after he said his administration might consider “very severe” measures against Saudi Arabia for murdering a journalist, which was “very sad” of course, which was a bit confusing and also rather dangerous:
In a statement, the Guardian’s U.S. editor denounced Trump’s remarks as “an attack on the First Amendment by someone who has taken an oath to defend it.”
“The President of the United States tonight applauded the assault on an American journalist who works for the Guardian,” editor John Mulholland said, adding that in the wake of Khashoggi’s death, Trump’s statement “runs the risk of inviting other assaults on journalists both here and across the world where they often face far greater threats.”
“We hope decent people will denounce these comments and that the president will see fit to apologize for them,” he said.
There will be no apology:
President Trump, at his rally in Missoula, Montana, framed the midterms as “an election of Kavanaugh, the caravan, law and order, and common sense. That’s what it’s going to be.”
“It’s going to be an election of those things: law and order, Kavanaugh, remember common sense and remember that it’s going to be an election of the caravan, you know what I’m talking about,” the President said.
In a new line for the campaign, Trump said, “Democrats create mobs. Republicans create jobs.”
Republicans don’t create mobs, but any guy that can body-slam a reporter or anyone else is his kind of guy, and of course there is that caravan:
Facing a sharp increase in unauthorized immigration, President Trump on Thursday lashed out at Democrats and the leaders of Latin American nations, seeking to deflect blame and mitigate political damage by riling up his base just weeks before the midterm elections.
The president’s mounting frustration was evident in a series of tweets in which he threatened to summon the military to guard the southern border, cut off aid to Central American nations and to upend a recent trade deal with Mexico if those governments fail to stop a large caravan of migrants from Honduras making its way toward the United States.
They’re seeking asylum. He wants to use the military to mow them down at the border. Republicans don’t create mobs?
That may not be so. Asawin Suebsaeng and Maxwell Tani report this:
Donald Trump caught various West Wing officials off-guard on Tuesday when he decided to describe the woman alleging that they’d had an affair as having a “Horseface.” But privately, the president not only thought that it was strategically smart to go after the adult film star Stormy Daniels in such a visceral way; he workshopped the insult prior to tweeting it.
This was the tweet:
“Federal Judge throws out Stormy Danials [sic] lawsuit versus Trump. Trump is entitled to full legal fees.” @FoxNews Great, now I can go after Horseface and her 3rd rate lawyer in the Great State of Texas. She will confirm the letter she signed! She knows nothing about me, a total con!
That was planned:
Well before Trump mocked Daniels’ physical appearance, he trial-ballooned the “Horseface” dig privately – among White House aides, close friends, and acquaintances. One source close to Trump even recalled him saying in passing, “that fucking Horseface.”
The president often tosses around ideas for snide new nicknames in smack-talk sessions with associates, if only to gauge their reactions.
According to a White House official and two other sources who talk regularly to Trump, many people in his orbit had for months told the president it was best not to elevate Daniels by, for example, rage-tweeting about her. Trump, for his part, argued that hitting back publicly and “hard” at the porn actress would not only be right, but could prove politically advantageous.
That’s the lesson he’d drawn from prior instances in which he’d chosen to counter-punch, even in the context of petty feuds deemed beneath the dignity of the presidency or schoolyard-style taunts aimed at brutal dictators.
The example is this:
In the days leading up to his first speech before the United Nations, for instance, Trump asked senior officials and friends if they thought it was a good idea for him to call North Korean leader Kim Jong Un the “rocket man” or “little rocket man” during his speech, according to two sources with knowledge of these conversations. He even told some people that others had advised him that such a move would be unwise and unnecessary even though he thought it would be “smart” and effective branding.
Despite the chorus of official and informal advisers urging the president to forgo the moniker, Trump did it anyway, declaring before the UN General Assembly last year, “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.” He went on to warn that the United States was ready to “totally destroy North Korea,” if it came to war.
The president came away from that moment relishing the “rocket man” headlines and hoopla, viewing it as a great triumph. In the months that followed, Trump would playfully and repeatedly tweak his advisers who told him not to utter “rocket man” during his debut UN speech.
“They love it – love it – when I fight. It’s great,” Trump told people around him in recent weeks, according to a participant in the conversation. He was referring to his conservative base voters.
And he didn’t start a war, but there is acknowledging reality:
At a time when Republicans are desperately attempting to hang onto female suburban voters, GOP officials have recoiled at Trump’s repeatedly vulgar and degrading comments about women. Recent polls show that Democrats have made inroads among married, white, college-educated women, many of whom traditionally vote Republican but live in districts that Democrats are hoping to pick up in November.
In what’s become a normal occurrence following many of Trump’s remarks, Republicans mostly ignored the president’s language.
Is that the answer to all this? The man has issues with reality, but he is the president. No one can ignore the president’s language. No one should. The nation may not survive this.