Two weeks after Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi went missing after entering his nation’s consulate in Istanbul, the Saudi government is preparing a report that will acknowledge his death was the result of an interrogation gone wrong. CNN’s Clarissa Ward and Tim Lister report that the Saudis will claim that the detainment of Khashoggi was intended to lead to his abduction from Turkey.
The about-face from the Saudi government is striking, as it has spent the days since Khashoggi’s disappearance claiming the journalist had left the consulate safely. Before reports of the Saudi plan broke, President Trump had appeared to boost the theory that top Saudi officials were unaware of the mission that resulted in Khashoggi’s murder, positing that it was possible that “rogue killers” were responsible for the journalist’s death. That statement, which appeared to suggest the president would not hold Saudi leaders responsible for Khashoggi’s murder, was met with outrage from journalists and some US politicians. “Been hearing the ridiculous ‘rogue killers’ theory was where the Saudis would go with this,” tweeted Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, who expressed disbelief that Trump would act as the kingdom’s “PR agent.”
On Monday morning, after speaking to King Salman of Saudi Arabia by phone, President Trump tweeted that he would send Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to meet with the king. Later in the day, The Washington Post reported that Turkish investigators were finally allowed to search the Saudi consulate where Khashoggi was last seen.
Khashoggi’s disappearance and reported murder have resulted in an international relations crisis for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), who had enjoyed close ties with the US administration after consolidating his power in the kingdom over the past year. Despite a lack of explicit condemnation of the crown prince from the White House, MBS has come under sustained criticism from leading business and media figures in the past several days.
The suggestion that a team of 15 Saudi operatives, including an autopsy expert at Saudi Arabia’s internal security agency, would enter Turkey to interrogate and possibly return Khashoggi to Saudi Arabia against his will, all without the knowledge of Saudi leadership, is highly unlikely. Reports of the Saudi’s qualified admission, along with President Trump’s suggestion that the conspiracy may not reach all the way to the top, indicate that leaders of both countries are scrambling to find a way out of the crisis while still maintaining their close ties. But after the brutal silencing of a prominent journalist, the moment for compromise and cover-ups should already have passed.
Below, more on the latest developments in the Khashoggi case.
- Trump as apologist for dictators: USA Today’s Editorial Board writes that Trump is not prepared to handle the “dark truth” behind Khashoggi’s disappearance. The president “has already lapsed into his unfortunate, recurring role as an apologist for brutal leaders who draw his favor,” the board wrote.
- Reaction from lawmakers: Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, writes in an op-ed for the Post that Khashoggi’s murder should trigger “a fundamental review” of the US–Saudi relationship. “This administration appears unlikely to take decisive action, so it’s up to Congress to determine the consequences,” Murphy writes. “One of those consequences must be ending our military assistance, which has given the Saudis free rein in the ongoing horror in Yemen.”
- What we know: The Times’s David D. Kirkpatrick lays out what we know, and what questions remain unanswered, two weeks after Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate.
- Trump’s role: The Post’s Ishaan Tharoor writes that by floating the “rogue killers” defense, Trump has joined Saudi Arabia’s Khashoggi cover-up.
- Fallout: BuzzFeed’s Emily Tamkin reports that Washington think tanks are divided on whether to return Saudi donations after Khashoggi’s disappearance. Meanwhile, CNN’s Hadas Gold reports that The New York Times is shutting down three planned guided tours to Saudi Arabia.
Other notable stories:
- Military personnel in Myanmar turned Facebook into a tool for ethnic cleansing, reports The New York Times’s Paul Mozur. In one of the first examples of an authoritarian government using the social network against its own people, “members of the Myanmar military were the prime operatives behind a systematic campaign on Facebook that stretched back half a decade and that targeted the country’s mostly Muslim Rohingya minority group,” Mozur writes.
- Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson dissect the media’s coverage of Brett Kavanaugh for Harvard’s Shorenstein Center. “For the press, one lesson from the Kavanaugh confirmation fight is already clear,” they write. “It was yet another political clash in which the truth was little more than an inconvenient obstacle for partisans to overcome.”
- For CJR, Jed Gottlieb writes that the media are covering hurricanes wrong, at least in the way they describe the strength of the storms. Relying on the Saffir–Simpson scale, which grades hurricanes from Category 1 to Category 5, provides only part of the picture and does a disservice to the public, Gottlieb argues.
- The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi trails CNN’s Jim Acosta through an evening of selfies and screamed criticism at a Trump rally in Erie, PA. “Among the Trump faithful, Acosta-hate seems to be more of a feeling than a particular set of facts. It’s not something he’s reported; it’s just . . . him,” Farhi writes.
- As part of CJR’s series on coverage of midterm elections, Lyz Lenz checks in from Iowa, where, “despite bipartisan support on the issue, the crisis of America’s digital divide has failed to become a headline grabber or garner any real action from politicians as midterms approach.”
Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated the location of the consulate where Jamal Khashoggi was last seen.