And so Trump has invested a considerable amount of time and energy in trying to cover for his allies in Riyadh, repeatedly telling the world how persuaded he’s been by Saudi leaders’ denials, and even peddling preemptive Saudi propaganda about “rogue killers.”
In an interview with the Associated Press, the Republican went a little further still.
President Donald Trump on Tuesday criticized rapidly mounting global condemnation of Saudi Arabia over the mystery of missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi, warning of a rush to judgment and echoing the Saudis’ request for patience.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Trump compared the case of Khashoggi, who Turkish officials have said was murdered in the Saudis’ Istanbul consulate, to the allegations of sexual assault leveled against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing.
“I think we have to find out what happened first,” Trump said. “Here we go again with, you know, you’re guilty until proven innocent. I don’t like that. We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh and he was innocent all the way as far as I’m concerned.”
I have a hunch this isn’t the argument Republicans want to hear – because if the Saudis and Kavanaugh are equally blameless, they really shouldn’t have confirmed the partisan jurist to the Supreme Court.
Regardless, we’re gaining fresh insights into how this president sees the world. As Jon Chait explained last night, “The rationale for confirming Kavanaugh is now the same as the rationale for believing the innocence of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman: They are both on Trump’s side, and can therefore commit any crimes they want.”
Exactly. Donald Trump is the most highly selective civil libertarian anyone has ever seen.
He was, for example, more than happy to embrace a guilty-until-proven-innocent posture toward the Central Park Five, but we don’t have to go that far back to appreciate the president’s idiosyncratic interest in due process.
It was less than a week ago that Trump insisted that Hillary Clinton “should be in jail.” A lengthy federal investigation found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing, but the president doesn’t much care. She’s not on his team, so she should therefore be considered guilty.
Perusing Trump’s tweets, we find all kinds of related examples. He’s accused Obama administration officials of committing crimes. He’s directed similar accusations against the FBI. And John Kerry. He’s even accused tech companies of committing crimes by, in his mind, secretly conspiring against his presidency.
In each of these instances, it never occurred to Trump to show restraint, and talk about his distaste for “guilty until proven innocent.” On the contrary, if the president thinks you’re on his team, you enjoy the presumption of innocence. If he sees you as a rival team, Trump assumes you’re guilty – of something.
The question then becomes, why is the American president so eager to see Saudi Arabian leaders as being on his team?