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Trump Reacts to 'Fistfight' Version of Khashoggi's Death

'There's been lies,' he concedes
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 21, 2018 10:15 AM CDT
Trump: 'There's Been Lies' About Death of Khashoggi
President Donald Trump waves as he walks across the South Lawn, Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018, returning to the White House in Washington after attending a rally in Nevada.   (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

(Newser) – President Trump is criticizing Saudi Arabia's version of Jamal Khashoggi's death—that the late journalist died in a fistfight gone wrong. "Obviously there's been deception, and there's been lies," he tells the Washington Post, but adds that "nobody has told me" Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is responsible for the death: "We haven't reached that point ... I would love if he wasn't responsible." He also downplayed Jared Kushner's relationship with Mohammed ("They're two young guys. ... They like each other, I believe") and made clear his position on a pending $110 billion US arms sale to the kingdom. "It's the largest order in history," he says. "To give that up would hurt us far more than it hurts them. Then all they’ll do is go to Russia or go to China. ... With that being said, something will take place." For more:

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  • The chokehold: An unidentified Saudi official tells Reuters that 15 Saudi nationals confronted Khashoggi to convince him to return to Saudi Arabia, but overstepped their bounds by threatening to drug and kidnap him. When Khashoggi raised his voice, he was put in a chokehold and died. "The intention was not to kill him," the official says.
  • Why, why, why: Doubters are pointing out holes in the Saudi story, the New York Times reports. Why did the royal court take 18 days to admit Khashoggi had died, after saying for two weeks he had left the Saudi consulate in Istanbul intact? Why would 60-year-old Khashoggi get in a fight with security agents? Why did the Saudi detail include an autopsy specialist?
  • More skeptics: Britain is among those who don't believe: "No, I don't think it is credible," says Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab of the fistfight story, per Al Jazeera. Germany, Canada, France, and of course Turkey are among the doubters. The European Union is demanding a "transparent investigation" into Khashoggi's death, the AP reports.
  • The body: Amnesty International wants Saudi Arabia to turn over Khashoggi's body for an autopsy. The fistfight story is "not trustworthy and marks an abysmal new low to Saudi Arabia's human rights record," says an Amnesty director in a statement.
  • No "nonsense": Two Saudi royal family members tell the Wall Street Journal that Prince Khalid al Faisal, an envoy of Mohammed's, went to Turkey last month and heard an audio recording of Khashoggi being drugged, killed, and cut up right after he entered the consulate. "The audio does not have this nonsense about a fight that broke after an argument," says one.

  • Twitter army: Saudi Arabia uses an "army of Twitter trolls" to harass critics of the kingdom—and Khashoggi was among their targets, the New York Times reports. Sometimes he took the attacks to heart: "The mornings were the worst for him because he would wake up to the equivalent of sustained gunfire online,” says a friend.
  • Saudi supporters: Saudi Arabia's Middle East allies are praising Mohammed's handling of the story, per Al Jazeera. Egypt commends his "brave and decisive actions" while state-run media in the United Arab Emirates praises his "directives and decisions … on the issue of Khashoggi."
  • Times editorial: "Trump has been longing for some way to hang on to his soul mate Prince Mohammed and lucrative Saudi arms deals from day one, and he seemed to breathe a sigh of relief over the story the Saudis concocted after more than two weeks of lies and evasions," per a New York Times editorial about the fistfight story.
  • Geopolitics: Turkey has been leaking reports of Khashoggi's gruesome death in order to "enhance its geopolitical position vis a vis Saudi Arabia as well as Russia and Iran and potentially garner economic advantage at a time that it is struggling to reverse a financial downturn," writes James Dorsey at Eurasia Review. Other geopolitical analyses can be found at Reuters, the Washington Post, and the Guardian; USA Today considers the economic angle.
According to one report, Khashoggi's fingers were removed first—then his head. (Read more Saudi Arabia stories.)

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