The president’s son argued this week that while murdering journalists is bad, there’s not much the Trump administration can or should do about it. He also dismissed allegations his father’s business is tied to Saudi Arabian interests, and made light of his father’s comments about a political ally who had assaulted a reporter.
During an interview on Fox News’ Outnumbered Friday, Eric Trump was asked about Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post journalist who was allegedly murdered by the Saudi government earlier this month.
“Listen, I think it’s tough, alright?” said the younger Trump, who is not an official spokesperson for the administration. “You can’t have journalists getting murdered. And the way they did it was obviously savage and awful and you had 15 people go through, and god know what actually happened in that room, whatever happened in that room was clearly awful.”
“At the same time,” he said, “I think we have to be honest with ourselves that as America we face a problem in that we don’t have that many friends in the Middle East. And you’ve got real problems in the Middle East.”
Trump was echoing his father’s own rhetoric about Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic and military ties to the United States. The president previously compared the way Saudi Arabia had been treated by the global press to the media coverage of his pick for the Supreme Court, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who has been accused of sexual assault or predation by multiple women.
President Trump in the past has also praised Saudi Arabia for purchasing billions in military equipment from the United States, claiming the country has created thousands of jobs — something Eric Trump repeated Friday.
“Saudi Arabia has actually been a friend to the United States in many ways,” he said. “They’re ordering from us massive, massive orders, hundreds of billions of dollars worth of arms and various things which will create tens and tens of thousands of jobs.”
The younger Trump then returned to the moral case against murdering journalists — or anyone, in fact. But when asked what America should do about it, Eric Trump answered with a big shrug.
“So you cannot be executing journalists, or anybody else, alright? Journalist or not, you can’t be doing it. It’s behavior that is savage and everything else,” he said. “But at the same time, who are our friends in the Middle East? U.A.E., Israel, and Saudi? So what are you going to do, you going to take that and throw all of that away? I don’t mean to be binary with this. One action is not acceptable, but it leaves the country in a tough predicament.”
It’s certainly not normal for the president’s son, who is running his father’s business, ostensibly on the other side of the firewall from the Trump administration, to talk about the administration’s foreign policy matters. The younger Trump even alluded to that in his comments this week.
“I’m not in the administration,” he said. “I’m a civilian in this whole process looking in. This is the problem. You have a powerful ally in a very unstable part of the world, where we have very few allies. And you have an atrocity.”
However the Trump family business does maintain notable ties to Saudi Arabia — ties that may be endangered if the United States were to threaten the country with sanctions or other reactive measures.
The Fox News hosts asked Eric Trump about those lucrative financial dealings Friday.
“We have zero financial relationships with Saudi Arabia,” he responded brazenly. “It’s a narrative that the Democrats like to throw around.”
Trump also downplayed the Saudi royal family’s purchase of a floor of Trump World Tower as “maybe 28 years ago.” (In fact they purchased the floor in 2001, which is 17 years ago.)
The president’s son curiously did not mention that, in 2015, his father boasted that he “likes the Saudis” because he “make[s] a lot of money with them.”
In an ironic twist, Eric Trump was also asked Friday about his father’s comments at a rally in Montana the night before, where he was supporting Rep. Greg Gianforte’s (R-MT) re-election bid.
Gianforte pleaded guilty in June 2017 to misdemeanor assault, after bodyslamming Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs for asking a question about health care.
“And by the way, never wrestle [Gianforte],” President Trump joked to the crowd. “You understand? Never. Any guy that can do a body slam, he’s my kind of — he’s my guy.”
On Friday, the younger Trump took a similar stance.
“[My father] wasn’t the guy that bodyslammed anybody. He can have fun,” he said, citing criticism from the White House Correspondents’ Association, which earlier Friday condemned the president’s comments about Gianforte.
“By the way, this is exactly why my father won,” he added. “Because so many people were so sick and tired of the little cage, the perfectly scripted politician who memorized their sound bite and they went out there and they had no crowds, and they weren’t any fun and they had no charisma, they had no personality. To go out and say, as a guy who is not PC and probably won because he’s not PC, anybody who bodyslams somebody is my kind of guy and joke about it and the whole crowd’s laughing, like, stop.”