Man, he’s really leaving MAGA Nation out on a limb here. For two weeks they’ve been spinning the Khashoggi murder for him every which way. Maybe the Turks and their sleazy autocratic leader are lying, maybe Khashoggi’s a jihadist and therefore had it coming, maybe one death just doesn’t matter when containing Iran and $100 billion in arms sales are on the line.
Now here’s POTUS coming down hard on them. Two options for the new spin: (1) Back him up by shifting instantly to a “Trump’s right, the Saudis are murderous lying garbage” talking point or (2) double down on the original spin, knowing that POTUS has every intention of sticking with the Saudis despite his harsh words for them here and will need protection when he’s criticized for doing so.
Maybe a little of both. Different pitches to different audiences.
President Trump on Saudi Arabia: "They had a very bad original concept, it was carried out poorly and the cover up was one of the worst in the history of cover ups." pic.twitter.com/oA9yOnDVWs
— CSPAN (@cspan) October 23, 2018
Two points of note. He says that he’s inclined to defer to Congress on how to punish the Kingdom, although clearly he’s in favor of allowing the arms deal to go through. That’s an opening for his pal Lindsey Graham to try to cobble together a Senate majority in favor of sanctions. As for the bit at the end about how pitiful the cover story is, note that he doesn’t attribute that story to any specific person or group. There’s no accusation that Mohammed bin Salman or the Saudi government lied; he seems to leave open the possibility that the cover story originated with the people who killed Khashoggi and therefore, I guess, poor innocent MBS himself might have been misled. There’s wiggle room here to repair official relations, just as long as the prince can go on claiming however unconvincingly that the order to kill didn’t come from him.
Mike Pompeo was more specific today, though. Watch this short clip where he makes a point of noting which agencies the kill team hail from: Saudi intelligence, the royal court, the foreign ministry.
— CSPAN (@cspan) October 23, 2018
Why the sudden turn from POTUS, though? Last weekend he said he found the cover story “credible.” Now it’s one of the worst in history. What changed? Likely answer: He’s tired of them making him look like a schmuck by asking him to defend implausible scenarios for how Khashoggi died.
In recent days, the President has complained about the negative coverage blanketing cable television and told confidantes he feels betrayed by the Saudis, who have presented shifting accounts about what happened to the journalist after he entered the Saudi consulate in Turkey three weeks ago to obtain a marriage document and never left.
The President, who spoke Sunday with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is privately blaming them for making him look badly. At times he has talked about how much he has done so much for the Saudis, complaining that they put him in this position.
He’s not going to punish them, but if Congress wants to take the reins and do it, hey. That’s what they get. If you’re going to murder someone, at least be clever about it.
In lieu of an exit question, here he is being asked about the administration’s new talking point that there are shadowy Middle Easterners amid the crowd of Latin American immigrants in the caravan headed north to the U.S. What proof does he have of that? None. No proof.
Trump admits that there's no proof that there are "Middle Easterners" in the migrant caravan, contradicting himself, his Vice President, and several senior admin officials who claimed otherwise.
"There's no proof of anything. There's no proof of anything." (via @tictoc) pic.twitter.com/3MauvUaTw5
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) October 23, 2018