In late October 2018, as the hideous story of journalist and United States resident Jamal Khashoggi‘s disappearance and suspected brutal murder at the behest of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince continued to unfold, the Trump administration and its allies appeared to brush off any sense of urgency about ongoing investigations. “My assessment from these meetings is that there is serious commitment to determine all the facts and ensure accountability, including accountability for Saudi Arabia’s senior leaders or senior officials,” United States Secretary of State Michael Pompeo told reporters.
On October 16th, Pompeo traveled to Turkey — where Khashoggi purportedly had been murdered and then dismembered in the Saudi consulate two weeks earlier — to meet with Saudi Arabian leaders:
“I’ve heard no tape, I’ve seen no transcript,” Pompeo told reporters in the only question he would take on the topic. After initially declining to take questions on the matter in favor of questions regarding his trip, Pompeo denied ABC News’ report, calling it “factually false.”
On his way back from Istanbul on Wednesday, Pompeo was asked if he had heard the audio.
“I don’t have anything to say about that,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post (to whom Khashoggi was a regular contributor) reported on a new whisper campaign smearing the missing journalist:
In recent days, a cadre of conservative House Republicans allied with Trump has been privately exchanging articles from right-wing outlets that fuel suspicion of Khashoggi, highlighting his association with the Muslim Brotherhood in his youth and raising conspiratorial questions about his work decades ago as an embedded reporter covering Osama bin Laden, according to four GOP officials involved in the discussions who were not authorized to speak publicly.
Those aspersions — which many lawmakers have been wary of stating publicly because of the political risks of doing so — have begun to flare into public view as conservative media outlets have amplified the claims, which are aimed in part at protecting Trump as he works to preserve the U.S.-Saudi relationship and avoid confronting the Saudis on human rights.
The whisper campaign spilled into the open during one of Trump’s perennial rallies, as his audience applauded and cheered:
This particular rally was in Montana on the night of October 18th, 2018 — just sixteen days after Khashoggi’s disappearance — when Trump praised a congressman who physically attacked a Guardian reporter during an interview in May 2017 because he didn’t like the questions who was being asked, and who was subsequently elected on the strength of absentee ballots:
“Greg is smart,” Mr Trump said of Montana Congressman Greg Gianforte, adding “By the way, never wrestle him”.
“Any guy that can do a body slam… he’s my guy,” he said to cheers and laughter at a rally in Montana.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the Guardian newspaper have called on Mr Trump to apologise.
This latest praise from Mr Trump is unlikely to improve his relationship with the media, which he has previously labelled the “enemy of the people”.
He said he had feared that the 2017 assault could have hindered Mr Gianforte’s chances of winning the special congressional election that followed. Mr Trump told supporters: “I said wait a minute, I know Montana pretty well, I think it might help him – and it did”.
After praising Mr Gianforte, Mr Trump also mimicked a person being thrown forcefully to the ground.
His praise of violence against reporters doing their job received swift domestic and international condemnation, but journalists pointed out that his words, coming so soon after Khashoggi’s disappearance and probable murder, are likely to have effects that will continue to reverberate globally for some time.
Trump’s attacks on reporters, which have opened the door for despots and dictators to crack down on their own media without consequences, are all right there in the open. The more insidious damage he’s done to journalism is kill practically all coverage that isn’t about him.
— Sulome Anderson (@SulomeAnderson) October 19, 2018
Meanwhile, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner’s cozy relationship with Saudi Arabia is getting new scrutiny after a rumor appeared that the United States knew about the Saudi plan to kidnap Khashoggi, but did nothing about it.