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No penalty for Saudi prince

President Donald Trump declared Tuesday he would not further punish Saudi Arabia for the murder of U.S.-based columnist Jamal Khashoggi — making clear in an exclamation-filled statement that the benefits of good relations with the kingdom outweigh the possibility its crown prince ordered the killing.

The president condemned the brutal slaying of Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul as a "horrible crime ... that our country does not condone." But he rejected calls by many in Congress, including members of his own party, for a tougher response, and also dismissed reports from U.S. intelligence agencies that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman must have at least known about such an audacious and intricate plot.

"It could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event," the president said. "Maybe he did and maybe he didn't!"

In many ways, the statement captured Trump's view of the world and foreign policy, grounded in economic necessity. It began with the words "America First!" followed by "The world is a very dangerous place!"

It came after weeks of debate over whether the president would or should come down hard on the Saudis and the crown prince in response to the killing of the Saudi columnist for The Washington Post who had criticized the royal family.

The U.S. earlier sanctioned 17 Saudi officials suspected of being responsible for or complicit in the Oct. 2 killing, but members of Congress have called for harsher actions, including cancelling arms sales.

Trump said "foolishly cancelling these contracts" worth billions of dollars would only benefit Russia and China, which would be next in line to supply the weapons. Critics denounced Trump's statement saying he ignored human rights and granted Saudi Arabia a pass for economic reasons.

Asked by a reporter if he was saying that human rights are too expensive to fight for, he responded, "No, I'm not saying that at all." But then he switched the subject to the "terrorist nation" of Iran rather than any actions by Saudi Arabia.

The U.S. needs a "counterbalance" to Iran, "and Israel needs help, too," he said. "If we abandon Saudi Arabia, it would be a terrible mistake."

The mistake was Trump's, said Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, contending the administration has "blinders on" in comparing Iran and Saudi Arabia.

"It's a sign of weakness not to stand up to Saudi Arabia," Paul said in an interview. "Sometimes when you have two evils, maybe you don't support either side."

Republican Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina senator who is close to Trump, also disagreed with the president's statement, saying America must not lose its "moral voice" on the international stage.

"It is not in our national security interests to look the other way when it comes to the brutal murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi," Graham said.

Likewise, Rep. Adam Schiff, ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said that to suggest that U.S. silence can be bought with arms sales "undermines respect for the office of the presidency, the credibility of our intelligence community and America's standing as a champion of human rights."

Trump's statement, issued just before he pardoned the Thanksgiving turkey at the White House and left for the long holiday weekend in Florida, underscored his world view of putting U.S. interests — both financial and geopolitical — above all else.

He told reporters on the South Lawn that oil prices would "skyrocket" if the U.S. broke with the Saudis, and he was not going to "destroy" the world's economy by being "foolish with Saudi Arabia."

Asked about any personal financial involvement, he said: "Saudi Arabia has nothing to do with me. What does have to do with me is putting America first."

Trump said that King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed both "vigorously deny" any knowledge of the planning or execution of the killing. He also said the CIA has not made a conclusive determination about whether the crown prince ordered it.

A U.S. official familiar with the case told The Associated Press last week that intelligence officials had concluded that the crown prince, the kingdom's de facto leader, did order the killing. Others familiar with the case, however, have cautioned that while it's likely the crown prince had a role there continue to be questions about the degree.

"We may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi," Trump said. "In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They have been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran."

Saudi prosecutors say a 15-man team sent to Istanbul exceeded its authority when the lead negotiator in the team decided to kill Khashoggi for refusing orders to return. The Saudis say the agents dismembered his body, which has not been found.

Democrats on Capitol Hill called on the CIA and other top intelligence agencies to publicly report what it has learned about the killing.

The CIA had no comment on the president's statement. However, former Director John Brennan, a frequent Trump critic, tweeted: "Since Mr. Trump excels in dishonesty, it is now up to members of Congress to obtain & declassify the CIA findings on Jamal Khashoggi's death. No one in Saudi Arabia — most especially the Crown Prince —should escape accountability for such a heinous act."



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