Getting President Donald Trump to badmouth a ruler he thinks he gets along well with is no easy task. Hawkish Republicans have stared agog as, over the past two years, Trump has heaped praises on Vladimir Putin of Russia, Kim Jong-un of North Korea, and Recep Erdogan of Turkey. And so it seemed to be going over the past few weeks during the national outcry over the brutal murder of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, as Trump remained reluctant to denounce the Saudi regime publicly even as evidence mounted up that they had planned and carried out the killing at the Saudi embassy in Turkey.
But even Trump, it seems, has a limit to his patience with friends. Following the Turkish government’s claim Tuesday that the plan to murder Khashoggi was hatched at the highest levels of the Saudi government, Trump responded in kind Tuesday afternoon, telling reporters that the Saudis had carried out “the worst cover-up ever.” The Saudis have repeatedly changed their story as more evidence of their guilt has bubbled up into the public eye, initially insisting that Khashoggi had left the consulate alive and only begrudgingly admitting last weekend that Khashoggi had been killed indoors. Even then, they asserted lamely that Khashoggi had died when he began to brawl with Saudi security officers.
“They had a very bad original concept, it was carried out poorly, and the cover-up was the worst in the history of cover-ups,” Trump said. “Whoever thought of that idea, I think, is in big trouble, and they should be in big trouble.”
Shortly after, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the U.S. plans to revoke the visas of the Saudi officials who are suspected of being involved in the murder. Whether the U.S. will additionally slap sanctions on Saudi Arabia will be decided in the days to come—although likely not until after Congress returns to Washington after the November midterms.
Trump’s newfound willingness to go after the Saudis goes only so far: He reiterated Tuesday that he has no plans to cancel a multibillion-dollar arms deal with the regime, arguing that this would constitute the United States punishing itself for the Saudis’ crimes.
“If what happened happened, and if the facts check out, it’s something that’s very bad. At the same time, they have been a very good ally of ours. They’ve been helping us a lot with respect to Israel. They’ve been funding a lot of things,” Trump said. “I will tell you that Russia and China would love to have that military order. This is $110 billion worth of military, and Russia would pick that up very quickly. China would pick it up very quickly. France would pick it up very quickly.”