Tom Barrack, a longtime confidant of President Donald Trump, issued an apology Wednesday following backlash over comments he made a day earlier that appeared to defend Saudi Arabia’s role in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The millionaire real estate investor, while speaking at a panel in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, suggested U.S. criticism of Saudi involvement in Khashoggi’s murder is “a mistake,” according to audio obtained by HuffPost.
“Whatever happened in Saudi Arabia, the atrocities in America are equal or worse,” Barrack said during the panel at the Milken Institute’s MENA Summit 2019.
His comments, first reported by Gulf News, sparked outrage online, especially in light of Trump’s announcement in November that the U.S. would continue to partner with Saudi Arabia, despite the CIA’s determination that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) had ordered Khashoggi’s slaying.
Barrack, who headed Trump’s inauguration committee and served as his senior adviser during the 2016 election, attempted to clarify his comments in a statement Tuesday.
“The killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was atrocious and is inexcusable,” he said in his statement. “I apologize for not making this clear in my comments earlier this week.”
Saudi Arabia purportedly conducted an internal investigation following the October murder of Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi royal family, at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The probe resulted in the arrests of 18 Saudis, including 15 operatives who had allegedly acted as the hit squad. Saudi Arabia has vehemently denied MBS played a role in the murder.
But Barrack, like his longtime friend Trump, apparently rejected the U.S. intelligence community’s determination that MBS had directed Khashoggi’s assassination. Instead, Barrack said in a statement Wednesday that he feels the “bad acts of a few should not be interpreted as the failure of an entire sovereign kingdom.”
Read the rest of his statement below:
Having spent over 40 years in the region I can attest that the rule of law and monarchies across the Middle East are confusing to the West and support for change and rule of law is essential as the agony and mistakes of great change take place. I love America and am myself a product of American freedom, American leadership and the American dream. I have always believed and continue to believe that the United States is the greatest country in the world but our history and our policies in the Middle East have been confusing at times. I believe that as a nation we do constantly work to lead by example, and I believe that we still do. I apologize for not making it clear at the time that I consider the killing reprehensible.
During the panel Tuesday, CNN’s Becky Anderson had asked Barrack how Khashoggi’s murder may have damaged Saudi Arabia’s reputation on the world stage.
In his rambling response, Barrack didn’t appear outraged by the journalist’s murder, instead claiming the West “doesn’t understand the rule of law” in Saudi Arabia.
“The atrocities in any autocratic country are dictated by the rule of law,” he said, “so for us to dictate what we think is the moral code there when we have a young man in a regime that’s trying to push themselves into 2030 I think is a mistake.”
Barrack’s comments echoed similar statements Trump has made in defense of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“He’s running his country and at least he’s a leader,” then-candidate Trump said during an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” in December 2015.
Host Joe Scarborough reminded Trump that Putin “kills journalists that don’t agree with him.”
“I think our country does plenty of killing also, Joe,” Trump replied. “There’s a lot of stuff going on in the world right now, Joe. A lot of killing going on and a lot of stupidity and that’s the way it is.”
Federal prosecutors in New York are looking into documents related to Barrack’s time as the head of Trump’s inauguration committee as part of a wide-ranging investigation into possible money laundering and cash-for-access schemes. The committee paid for several events at locations connected to Barrack, including spending $1.5 million at a hotel in which Barrack’s investment firm held a small stake, ProPublica reported.