Conservatives mount a whisper campaign smearing Khashoggi in defense of Trump

Hard-line Republicans and conservative commentators are mounting a dark whisper campaign against Jamal Khashoggi that is designed to protect President Trump from criticism of his handling of the dissident journalist’s alleged murder by Saudi Arabian operatives — and support Trump’s continued aversion to a forceful response to the oil-rich desert kingdom.

In recent days, a cadre of conservative House Republicans allied with Trump has been privately exchanging articles from right-wing outlets that fuel suspicion of Khashoggi, highlighting his association with the Muslim Brotherhood during his youth and raising conspiratorial questions about his work decades ago as an embedded reporter covering Osama bin Laden, according to four GOP officials involved in the discussions who were not authorized to speak publicly.

Those aspersions — which many lawmakers have been wary of stating publicly due to the political risks of doing so — have begun to flare into public view as conservative media outlets have amplified the claims, which are aimed in part in protecting Trump as he works to preserve the U.S.-Saudi relationship and avoid confronting the Saudis on human rights.