It should come as no surprise that Donald Trump and his family, including son-in-law Jared Kushner and sons Donald Trump, Jr. and Eric Trump, are siding with Saudi Arabia’s bizarre explanation for the murder of Washington-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate-General in Istanbul on October 2, 2018. After Kushner held a series of meetings in October 2017 with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), nicknamed “Mohammed Bone Sawman” – a reference to the royal assassination team of 15 men that MBS dispatched to Istanbul that used a bone saw to dismember Khashoggi – the Crown Prince became emboldened to strike out his political enemies and royal rivals.
Kushner is believed to have handed MBS a list of names, culled from National Security Agency (NSA) intercepts of Saudi communications, of MBS’s enemies. In November 2017, MBS rounded up and detained in the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton Hotel some 200 Saudi princes, government ministers, businessmen, and others for interrogation sessions, with the intense questioning, reportedly, leading to, at least, one fatal heart attack.
One of the princes detained by MBS was Saudi multi-billionaire Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, formerly the largest single shareholder in Citigroup. Since his release from three months of detention by MBS, Al-Waleed is no longer a billionaire, his fortune having been seized by MBS. Al-Waleed was a frequent critic of Trump's proposed Muslim ban during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Khashoggi was not the first victim of the Saudi regime hunted down and murdered. Saudi Prince Khaled bin Farhan al-Saud, who has lived in exile in Germany since 2004 and is a critic of the MBS regime, reported in an interview with the DPA German press agency that, in late September 2018, one of his relatives met with Saudi embassy officials in Cairo. The Saudi interlocutors told the relative that they knew Prince Khaled was short on funds and that they wished to "help him." All that was needed, the Saudi diplomats told the relative, was for Khaled to go to the Saudi embassy in Cairo to pick up his check. Khaled immediately knew it was a trap. Khaled told DPA, "they would have killed me in some inhuman way in order to scare off others." In 2017, Saudi officials approached German officials to have them extradite Khaled to Saudi Arabia. The Germans ignored the Saudi request and beefed up his personal security.
Khaled was lucky. In January 2016, Prince Sultan bin Turki, who lived in Paris, planned to fly from Boston to Cairo to visit his father. The MBS government provided a private jet for the prince. However, instead of Cairo, the plane flew Sultan to Riyadh, where he was dragged off the plane by security agents and he was never heard from again.
In late 2015, Prince Turki bin Bandar, who lived in Paris, was visiting Morocco. The Moroccan authorities arrested Prince Turki and extradited him to Saudi Arabia. He has not been heard from since.
A friend of Prince Khaled, Saudi royal house member Saud bin Saif al-Nasr, lived in Milan, where he called for the ouster of King Salman and MBS. Saud was lured to a business meeting in Rome, where he was kidnapped by Saudi agents and hustled back to Riyadh. Saud has not been heard from since.
Kushner also, according to published news reports, told Trump not to alienate MBS over the grisly murder of Khashoggi, arguing that MBS could survive the outrage over the murder, just as he “weathered past criticism,” including the genocidal Saudi-led war in Yemen, the detention of the Saudi elite at the Ritz-Carlton, and the kidnapping in Riyadh of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Trump, apparently, took Kushner’s advice.
On October 19, the Saudi Arabian Press Agency confirmed that Khashoggi died inside the Saudi mission in Istanbul, following a physical altercation with his interrogators that followed a botched interrogation. Trump said he found the incredulous Saudi explanation of Khashoggi’s death to be “credible,” adding that it was an “important first step.” Earlier, Trump said he believed "rogue agents" may have killed Khashoggi without the knowledge of senior Saudi officials, including King Salman and MBS. Trump has called the king and MBS his "friends."
Trump, using language similar to his defense of his Supreme Court pick, Brett Kavanaugh, said the Saudis should be considered innocent until proven guilty. In an interview with the Associated Press, 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." It was strange for Trump to liken Kavanaugh to the Saudis. The Saudi government has never been known to tell the truth about its involvement in assassinations and terrorist events, including the 9/11 attack in 2001 on the United States and the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing.
The Saudis said nothing about the method of Khashoggi’s death, which, according to Turkish law enforcement sources, began with the Saudis, including a physician specializing in dissections, severing Khashoggi’s fingers, while he was still alive. The Saudis did their very best to follow Kushner’s advice. By delaying the announcement of Khashoggi’s death, relieving Saudi consul general in Istanbul Mohammed al-Otaibi of his duties, firing 18 members of the Saudi royal court and intelligence service, “arranging” a car accident in Riyadh that killed one of the hit team members – Meshal Saad al-Bostani – and announcing an investigation commission to be headed by none other than “Mohammed Bone Sawman,” the Saudis hoped to kick the can down the road until the murder of Khashoggi no longer dominated the news cycle.
Riyadh was also able to count on the support of Kushner, Trump, National Security Adviser John Bolton, and their Israeli friends who wanted nothing to interfere with the American-Israeli-Saudi axis gearing up for war against Iran.
Trump also said he did not want anything to affect the “$110 billion [in Saudi military purchases] from being spent in this country.” Trump was lying. The Saudis have only committed to the buying of $14.5 billion in US military hardware. Nevertheless, Trump told an impromptu White House press gathering on October 13, “I tell you what I don’t want to do. Boeing, Lockheed, Raytheon, all these companies. I don’t want to hurt jobs. I don’t want to lose an order like that.”
US law enforcement assisting in the investigation of Khashoggi's murder are zeroing in on a series of phone calls between Kushner and MBS prior to and after Khashoggi flew from Washington to Istanbul to obtain marriage documentation from the Saudi consulate-general. Although some of the calls involved the spurious “$110 billion US arms sale” to Saudi Arabia – a deal that had Kushner's personal support – investigators want to know if the subject of Khashoggi's criticism of MBS's regime came up during the conversations. If Kushner had advance knowledge of MBS's plans to either kidnap or murder Khashoggi, Kushner would be an accessory to conspiracy to commit homicide.
If the White House failed to ensure the government’s “duty to warn” Khashoggi of a threat against him, US law may have been violated. MBS once bragged that he had Kushner “in his pocket.” How much so is now of great interest to the FBI and INTERPOL. Also, of interest to law enforcement are calls intercepted by the NSA between the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Khaled bin Salman – MBS's brother – and the royal palace in Riyadh, as well as calls between Khaled bin Salman and Kushner.
What should be worrisome to Kushner and his friends in Jerusalem is the fact that the Saudi National Guard (SANG), whose ranks are made up of members of various Saudi tribes, is leading a major internal Saudi power struggle against MBS. Thanks to decades of support from various US defense and intelligence contractors, including the CIA-linked Vinnell Corporation of Fairfax, Virginia, SANG has its own intelligence-gathering apparatus. SANG rebels have reportedly made a temporary alliance with the intelligence service of Qatar, since both view MBS as their common enemy and in the Middle East, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” It is this combined SANG-Qatari intelligence capability, coupled with Turkish leads on the Khashoggi murder, that should cause Kushner to have many a sleepless night.