President Donald Trump shrugged off his own government’s reports concluding Saudi Arabian leadership directed the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year, stressing that the Middle Eastern kingdom is a valuable ally to the U.S.
During an interview with NBC News’ Chuck Todd that aired Sunday on “Meet The Press,” the president said his only interests in the Middle East are preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons and protecting Israel and Saudi Arabia.
“That’s all I care about,” Trump said. “Look, Saudi Arabia is buying $400 billion worth of things for us. That’s a very good thing.”
Experts say Trump’s repeated claim that Saudi Arabia has invested hundreds of billions of dollars in U.S. goods and services has no basis in reality. The Saudis signed letters of offer and acceptance for $14.5 billion worth of purchases as of October 2018. The White House did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment about the other $385.5 billion.
Trump also told Todd that he spoke to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (known as MBS) on Friday ahead of his interview with NBC News and that the two had “a great conversation.”
Asked by Todd if he spoke to MBS about Khashoggi, Trump said, “It really didn’t come up.”
The CIA and Turkish authorities investigated Khashoggi’s death and determined MBS personally ordered his murder. Khashoggi, 59, a Washington Post columnist who had been living in the U.S., was an outspoken critic of the Saudi royal family. On Oct. 2, 2018, he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to get documents he needed for his planned marriage and instead was killed and dismembered by agents of the Saudi government, the U.S. and Turkish officials reported.
MBS has denied any involvement in Khashoggi’s death and Trump has publicly sided with the crown prince over his own intelligence agencies.
In defending America’s continued partnership with the Saudis, Trump claimed in the NBC interview that the country is “a big buyer” of U.S. products.
“That means something to me,” the president said. “It’s a big producer of jobs.”
Trump denied that the Saudi promise to buy American goods prompted him to “overlook” some of the country’s “bad behavior.” But when asked if he would allow the FBI to investigate Khashoggi’s death, as encouraged by the United Nations, Trump said he believes it’s already been “heavily investigated.”
“I’ve seen so many different reports,” Trump said. “Iran’s killed many, many people a day. Other countries in the Middle East ― this is a hostile place. This is a vicious, hostile place. If you’re going to look at Saudi Arabia, look at Iran, look at other countries.”
Todd asked whether Saudi Arabia had paid the right price for the U.S. to essentially look the other way on Khashoggi’s killing.
“No, no,” Trump responded. “But I’m not like a fool that says, ‘We don’t want to do business with them.’ And by the way, if they don’t do business with us, you know what they do? They’ll do business with the Russians or with the Chinese.”
“Take their money,” he added. “Take their money, Chuck.”
Just last week, the U.N. announced it had found “credible evidence” linking MBS to Khashoggi’s murder and called on Trump to allow the FBI to investigate further.
The Senate voted last week to block the Trump administration from selling arms to Saudi Arabia. The president has vowed to veto the measure.
“There is high confidence that the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia butchered a dissident with a bone saw,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), one of a handful of GOP members who voted against the arms sales, told his colleagues on the Senate floor ahead of the vote. “You would think that would give us pause as to giving Saudi Arabia or selling Saudi Arabia more weapons.”