Trump team reportedly helped Saudi Arabia cover up murder of US journalist
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hand-delivered a plan to the Saudi royal family to help the crown prince get away with ordering the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to a bombshell new report.
Citing a senior Saudi source, Middle East Eye reported Monday evening that Pompeo devised a plot to help shield Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (“MBS”) from the fallout following the highly publicized murder of Khashoggi, who was brutally killed in the Saudi consulate in Turkey on October 2.
Pompeo reportedly discussed the plan with Saudi Arabia’s king during a visit to the country’s capital city, Riyadh, two weeks after Khashoggi’s murder.
While the specific claims made by the source in the report have yet to be independently confirmed by other news outlets, the details align with previous extensive reporting on the Khashoggi scandal and the ensuing “damage control” efforts carried out by the Saudi regime.
According to Middle East Eye, the plan to shield the crown prince encompasses several steps, including an option to blame Khashoggi’s murder “on an innocent member of the ruling al-Saud family in order to insulate those at the very top.”
Thus far, that person has not been chosen, but Saudi officials are reportedly still considering the option as pressure continues to mount on the crown prince, who has been directly implicated in Khashoggi’s assassination.
On Friday, the Washington Post reported that the CIA had concluded in a high-confidence assessment that the crown prince personally ordered the murder of the journalist.
Even before the CIA’s conclusion was made public, evidence released by Turkish officials strongly suggested that the Saudi crown prince had a hand in Khashoggi’s brutal murder.
This evidence was starting to emerge right around the time of Pompeo’s visit to Saudi Arabia, during which he met with the crown prince. After the visit, Pompeo urged patience and said the administration had pledged to give the Saudi regime more time to produce an explanation regarding Khashoggi’s killing.
When pressed by reporters, Pompeo said he didn’t want to talk about the “facts” of the case, and that the Saudis didn’t want to, either.
In an apparent attempt to deflect criticism away from the Saudi royal family, Pompeo also emphasized the need to preserve the U.S.-Saudi Arabia relationship, saying, “We have a long strategic relationship with Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They’re an important partner. We need to be mindful of that as well.”
According to Middle East Eye, the Trump administration was so invested in maintaining that “strategic relationship” that it sent Pompeo to Saudi Arabia “to advise the Saudis on how to handle the fallout in the Khashoggi case.”
Besides blaming the murder on a family member, the plan to shield the crown prince reportedly also included steps to buy time, such as offering to help investigate the crime and identifying other people who played a role in the killing.
The Saudis have taken all of these steps. Since Pompeo’s visit, they’ve offered to coordinate a joint Saudi-Turkish investigation, sent a team of investigators to the consulate in Istanbul, and arrested at least 21 suspects.
Those aren’t the only indications that Pompeo may have discussed a strategy for damage control during his meetings with Saudi officials.
Notably, prior to Pompeo’s visit, Saudi Arabia had maintained a false narrative claiming that Khashoggi left the consulate alive and well. But after meeting with Pompeo, Saudi officials changed their story and admitted that Khashoggi was dead, then proceeded to offer several different accounts of his death.
“They [the Saudi leadership] have done everything [Pompeo] wanted to execute,” the senior Saudi source told Middle East Eye.
If Pompeo did indeed help devise a plan to help the Saudi crown prince get away with the murder of Khashoggi, it would not be the first effort by Trump associates to obscure the truth surrounding the brutal killing.
Just as Pompeo was returning from his Saudi Arabia trip, Republicans and right-wing pundits kicked off a smear campaign aimed at protecting Trump and supporting his refusal to confront his allies in the Saudi regime about the slain journalist.
At the time, evidence implicating the crown prince was mounting, but Trump continued to parrot Saudi Arabia’s denials and even provided a theory of his own, suggesting that “rogue killers” could be responsible for the murder.
The response of the Trump White House in the aftermath of Khashoggi’s murder has brought increased attention to Trump’s business ties to Saudi Arabia, the close relationship between Jared Kushner and the crown prince, and other potential conflicts of interest that could explain the administration’s motivation to provide cover to the Saudi regime.
Of particular interest is a $110 million payment that Saudi Arabia made to the U.S. government on the same day that Pompeo arrived in the Gulf kingdom. That’s the same amount of money that was previously promised to the Trump administration to support its stabilization efforts in Syria.
White House officials have insisted the timing of the payment was mere coincidence, but many Middle Eastern experts are skeptical.
“In all probability, the Saudis want Trump to know that his cooperation in covering for the Khashoggi affair is important to the Saudi monarch,” Joshua Landis, director of the University of Oklahoma’s Center of Middle East Studies, told the Washington Post. “Much of its financial promises to the U.S. will be contingent on this cooperation.”
Others offered even more blunt assessments. “The timing of this is no coincidence,” said one U.S. official involved in Syria policy.
Complicating matters even further are Trump’s personal financial interests in Saudi Arabia. Despite his denials when questioned in the aftermath of Khashoggi’s killing, Trump has previously braggedabout how much money he’s made from Saudi investors, and these profits have only increasedsince his election.
According to a Washington Post report, Trump Hotels in New York and Chicago have seen a huge influx of Saudi cash in recent months, giving Trump yet another reason to cozy up to the royal family — and possibly even enough motivation to help them cover up a murder.
More than six weeks after Khashoggi was brutally murdered for his work as a journalist, new questions continue to arise about his killing and the events that took place afterward. But while we don’t know the full story yet, one thing is clear: If the effort to cover up Khashoggi’s murder was designed to make the scandal go away, it couldn’t possibly have backfired in a bigger way.
Published with permission of The American Independent. Attribution: Caroline Orr.