On the front page of the Washington Post this morning, readers are confronted with a story that begins, "The Trump administration and the Saudi royal family are searching for a mutually agreeable explanation for the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi -- one that will avoid implicating Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is among the president's closest foreign allies, according to analysts and officials in multiple countries."
That's a rather extraordinary sentence. One of the nation's preeminent news organizations reported, in a matter-of-fact sort of way, that Donald Trump's White House is effectively helping with a cover-up.
A foreign country stands accused of murdering a U.S.-based journalist, and the American president's team is now working with that country on an acceptable cover story that protects Trump's ally.
A separate Washington Post report added:
...Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said the administration had "clamped down" on sharing intelligence about the Khashoggi case. He said an intelligence briefing scheduled for Tuesday was canceled and he was told no additional intelligence would be shared with the Senate for now, a move he called "disappointing.""I can only surmise that probably the intel is not painting a pretty picture as it relates to Saudi Arabia," Corker said.
Well, yes, I think that's a safe assumption. But I also think it's more than simply "disappointing."
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which has extensive oversight authority over the executive branch's handling of international affairs, has more than a few questions right now about Saudi Arabia and the White House's policy toward the Middle Eastern giant.
But the Trump administration, while working with the Saudi royal family on "a mutually agreeable explanation for the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi," has decided to "clamp down" on sharing intelligence with Congress.
There's no reason for lawmakers to respond by simply shrugging their shoulders in frustration.
Senate Democrats, meanwhile, are pressing further. Time reported:
A group of Senators are demanding President Donald Trump and his sons disclose information about the family's business ties to Saudi Arabia following the disappearance of U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.The 11 Senators, all Democrats, asked Trump to reveal any business ties between the Trump Organization and Saudi officials. In a letter published by Axios on Wednesday, the Senators requested that Trump "commit to suspending any ongoing business relationships" with the Saudis while the investigation into Khashoggi's disappearance is ongoing."Your recent statements, and public reports of increased spending by the Saudi government at Trump properties, raise significant concerns about financial conflicts of interest," the Senators wrote.
This is clearly a thread worth pulling on, since it's far from clear why Trump is choosing such a weak approach. If the president isn't guided by evidence, and he's not motivated by an arms deal that doesn't exist, what explains his passivity?