U.S. president says Saudi Arabia deserves benefit of doubt until its involvement in journalist disappearance can be proven
U.S. President Donald Trump pushed back on Tuesday at global condemnation of Saudi Arabia over the disappearance and suspected murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, saying the kingdom deserved to be presumed innocent.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Trump drew a parallel with the accusations of sexual assault that nearly brought down his Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. “Here we go again with, you know, you’re guilty until proven innocent,” he said. “I don’t like that. We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh and he was innocent all the way as far as I’m concerned.”
“I think we have to find out what happened first,” Trump said.
An insider turned critic of Saudi Arabia’s conservative monarchy, Khashoggi was last seen on Oct. 2 when he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to sort out marriage paperwork. His disappearance has strained relations with Washington amid strong pressure in Congress and the U.S. media to prevent the issue from being swept under the carpet.
Trump sent Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Riyadh to talk directly with Saudi Arabia’s royals, and himself spoke earlier Tuesday with powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who assured him a “full” probe was underway.
Saudi Arabia is one of the closest U.S. partners in a bid to undermine Iran and also a massive client of the U.S. weapons industry.
At the prompting of Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, his administration has made good relations with Mohammed—portrayed as a Saudi modernizer—a priority.
Trump earlier threatened “severe punishment” if there was proof that Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate. But he also mused aloud that “rogue” elements may have carried out the operation and has ruled out cutting sales of U.S. weapons, of which Saudi Arabia is the largest foreign buyer.