President Trump, who has been reluctant to commit to potential sanctions for Saudi Arabia over the apparent murder of Washington Post columnist and Virginia resident Jamal Khashoggi, has repeatedly used Khashoggi’s immigration status as a subtle way of downplaying the significance of his disappearance.
Trump tweeted on Monday morning that Saudi King Salman denies knowing anything about what happened to the Saudi dissident — who hasn’t been seen since he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on October 2. Trump quoted Salman as referring to Khashoggi as “our Saudi Arabian citizen.”
Just spoke to the King of Saudi Arabia who denies any knowledge of whatever may have happened “to our Saudi Arabian citizen.” He said that they are working closely with Turkey to find answer. I am immediately sending our Secretary of State to meet with King!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 15, 2018
Speaking to reporters outside the White House a short time later, Trump again emphasized Khashoggi’s status as a Saudi citizen. He also indicated he takes seriously Salman’s denial of Saudi involvement in Khashoggi’s reported murder, suggesting “rogue killers” may have perpetrated it.
Speaking outside White House, Trump again goes out of his way to mention Khashoggi's immigration status
"I just spoke w/king of Saudi Arabia, who denies any knowledge of what took place with regard to, as he said, his Saudi Arabia citizen…these might have been rogue killers" pic.twitter.com/nAoCs7RCV7
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) October 15, 2018
Monday wasn’t the first time Trump went out of his way to emphasize Khashoggi’s immigration status.
During a media availability last Thursday, Trump downplayed Khashoggi’s disappearance by saying, “Again, this took place in Turkey, and to the best of our knowledge Khashoggi is not a US citizen, is that right? He’s a permanent resident, okay… as to whether we should stop $110 billion from being spent in this country, that would not be acceptable to me.”
Trump: This thing happened in Turkey and Khashoggi isn't even a US citizen. pic.twitter.com/3poTLR22jN
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) October 11, 2018
During his comments to reporters on Monday, Trump — who has indicated he won’t curtail arms sales to Saudi Arabia, even if evidence emerges the kingdom is responsible for Khashoggi’s murder — indicated he accepts Salman’s denials at face value, saying, “His denial to me could not have been stronger — that he had no knowledge, and it sounded like the Crown Prince had no knowledge.”
But Turkish government officials have reportedly told U.S. intelligence officials they have audio and video evidence that Khashoggi was in fact murdered inside the Saudi consulate.
Trump has a long history of accepting denials of misconduct from his political allies at face value.
Trump on Russian interference: Putin totally denies it.
Trump on Roy Moore allegations: He totally denies it.
Trump on Khashoggi's disappearance: The Saudis totally deny it.
A rhetorical throwing up of one's hands, in 3 acts.
— Aaron Blake (@AaronBlake) October 15, 2018
Perhaps most infamously, during a news conference in Helsinki in July, Trump confirmed he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denial of meddling in the 2016 American presidential election over the conclusions of his own intelligence agencies.
“My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others they said they think it’s Russia,” Trump said, with Putin standing next to him. “I have President Putin, he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this. I don’t see any reason why it would be.”