Donald Trump's unconventional approach to, well, everything is a hallmark of his presidency. It's at least part of why he got elected two years ago. But even by his own unorthodox standards, his answer to a question Tuesday from the Wall Street Journal stands out.
Here's the exchange regarding Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, commonly known as MBS, and the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi:
Continents and regions
Government and public administration
Government bodies and offices
Middle East and North Africa
Political Figures - US
US federal government
WSJ: Do you believe him? Do you believe the denials?
Mr. Trump: I want to believe him. I really want to believe him. They've been a very good ally. They've been a tremendous investor in our military equipment and other things. They buy tremendous amounts of things from our country. It probably amounts to millions of jobs, you know, a million jobs. That's a lot of jobs. So I certainly want to believe him.
That's amazing stuff. And not in a good way.
Trump is making clear that he is going out of his way to believe MBS' claim that he had no idea about the attempt to lure Khashoggi, a prominent critic of the Saudi government, to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, where he was killed. Why? Because "they buy tremendous amounts of things from our country," according to Trump.
So, to simplify: The President of the United States is saying that he "really want(s) to believe" the Saudi government's story that Khashoggi died accidentally after a fistfight within the consulate because he doesn't want our lucrative business relationship with the Arab country to change.
The problem with all of that is simple: There are any number of elements of the story the Saudis are telling that have either changed or don't jibe with known facts. If the killing was accidental, why did the Saudi government refuse to say anything about it for weeks? Why do we still not know the whereabouts of Khashoggi's body? Why was a bone saw brought into the consulate, as one source told The New York Times? Why was a body double spotted wearing Khashoggi's clothes in the hours after the murder?
And remember that Trump has from the start bent over backwards in hopes that the Saudi government can find an explanation that allows the US to maintain their mutually beneficial relationship.
First, Trump said he took King Salman's word that he knew nothing of the events surrounding Khashoggi's death, and floated the idea it might have been "rogue killers" who somehow gained entry to the consulate (Trump never explained where he got that theory from -- or whether he had any reason to believe it was true).
Then, late last week, he said he believed the Saudi government's "fistfight" explanation.
Now comes this Wall Street Journal interview where Trump makes plain how badly he wants the Saudis to find an explanation that allows them to maintain their mutual financial interests.
And, to be clear, this is not the first time where Trump has prioritized financial and/or geopolitical concerns over human rights. His public admiration for the likes of Chinese President Xi Jinping, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin -- all leaders who have questionable human rights records that Trump has either glossed over or ignored completely in meetings with them -- is well known.
While each of those episodes drew media attention, none of them were as brutally calculating as what Trump told the Journal about Khashoggi. And that is saying something.
This article has been updated.
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