Before Trump Did Nothing When Mohammed bin Salman Went After Jamal Khashoggi, He Did Nothing When MBS Went After Alwaleed bin Talal

There are a number of stories suggesting that the Trump administration will do nothing in response to the evidence that Mohammed bin Salman lured journalist Jamal Khashoggi to the Saudi consulate in Turkey to have him murdered and dismembered.

Trump has made a show of pretending to get to the bottom of things, while saying doing anything about it would hurt US-Saudi relations (meaning arms sales).

As outrage started to grow, MBS called Jared Kushner, with whom he has a close relationship sealed over all night conversations.

The White House said Wednesday that the powerful Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, had spoken about Khashoggi the previous day with White House national security adviser John Bolton and Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner. Kushner and the crown prince, who is commonly referred to as MBS, are known to be close.

A former administration official told POLITICO that MBS had demanded the call earlier in the week after the top official at the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh asked MBS directly about the Khashoggi case. The crown prince denied any wrongdoing in his conversation with that embassy official, the former official said.

Neither the White House nor the State Department would comment on the Saudi crown prince’s demand or most other aspects of this story. But the former official said the crown prince’s insistence on talking directly to the White House indicates he is hoping to leverage his close ties with Kushner and others in Trump’s inner circle to avoid repercussions.

And the business community — including close Trump allies — seem prepared to head for an investors conference in Saudi Arabia in spite of the assassination.

But if it becomes clear that the prince ordered the assassination of Mr. Khashoggi or was connected to it in some way, it will provoke an outcry on Capitol Hill; embarrass American executives, dozens of whom are flocking to Riyadh for a conference next week where the crown prince is scheduled to speak; and put Mr. Kushner, who was once himself a newspaper publisher, in an extremely awkward position.

Among the prominent figures scheduled to take part are Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase; Stephen A. Schwarzman, the chief executive of the Blackstone Group; and Dara Khosrowshahi, the chief executive of Uber.

Two other scheduled attendees have ties to Mr. Trump: Thomas J. Barrack Jr., a financier who is a friend of the president’s; and Dina H. Powell, a Goldman Sachs executive and former deputy national security adviser who worked closely with Mr. Kushner on Saudi Arabia and is a leading candidate to replace Nikki R. Haley as ambassador to the United Nations.

The Treasury Department said Mr. Mnuchin was still planning to attend.

While Congress has responded to this assassination by leveraging the Magnitsky Act, it seems the Administration would just like attention to the killing to fade.

Which really shouldn’t be a surprise.

The Administration did nothing last year when MBS targeted an even more prominent western-connected Saudi, Alwaleed bin Talal. Alwaleed was detained for 83 days by MBS until such time as he agreed to some kind of deal with the government, which may have involved handing over a substantial part of his fortune and acceptance of greater involvement in his business decisions.

Did you have to pay the government any money, did you have to hand over any land, did you have to surrender any shares?

When I say it’s a confidential and secret agreement, an arrangement based on a confirmed understanding between me and the government of Saudi Arabia, you have to respect that.

I’m a Saudi citizen. But I’m also a member of the royal family. The king is my uncle. Mohammed bin Salman is my cousin. So my interest is in maintaining the relationship between us and keeping it unscratched.

While Alwaleed is in no way a Saudi dissident, as Khashoggi was, he was a crucial cog not only in Saudi-US relations, but by virtue of his substantial investments in key US companies, in the US economy.

And western observers watched as MBS exerted some kind of influence over Alwaleed with only hushed complaints.

Far from criticizing the crackdown, Trump (and Jared, before the fact) appeared to sanction it.

Trump might do so not just because he has a fondness for authoritarianism. Starting fairly early in his presidential campaign, Trump had responded to Alwaleed’s criticisms of him with public mockery.

The Alwaleed-Trump tiff began in 2015, when candidate Trump called for curbing Muslim travel to the US in a bid to prevent terrorist attacks. Because of that, Alwaleed tweeted that the Republican front-runner was a “disgrace” and should bow out of the race. Mr. Trump responded that the prince was “dopey” and was seeking to “control our US politicians with daddy’s money.”

At one point, the future president tweeted a photo of Alwaleed alongside Megyn Kelly, then a Fox News correspondent who had clashed with Mr. Trump. It turned out that the image was a fake, and Mr. Trump falsely claimed that Alwaleed was “the co-owner of Fox News.” In fact, the prince had a stake in Fox’s (FOXA) sibling company, News Corp. (NWS), amounting to about 7 percent. He since has cut it drastically.

Alwaleed has countered Mr. Trump’s attacks by pointing out that he helped bail out the New York developer when the highly indebted Trump empire teetered on collapse in the early 1990s. First, the prince bought Mr. Trump’s 283-foot yacht for a bargain price of $18 million and with a partner bought out the Plaza, a storied New York hotel, which the Trump Organization owned.

Indeed, the Intercept reported that Jared provided intelligence from the Presidential Daily Brief to MBS on people he deemed disloyal to the regime.

In late October, Jared Kushner made an unannounced trip to Riyadh, catching some intelligence officials off guard. “The two princes are said to have stayed up until nearly 4 a.m. several nights, swapping stories and planning strategy,” the Washington Post’s David Ignatius reported at the time.

What exactly Kushner and the Saudi royal talked about in Riyadh may be known only to them, but after the meeting, Crown Prince Mohammed told confidants that Kushner had discussed the names of Saudis disloyal to the crown prince, according to three sources who have been in contact with members of the Saudi and Emirati royal families since the crackdown. Kushner, through his attorney’s spokesperson, denies having done so.

“Some questions by the media are so obviously false and ridiculous that they merit no response. This is one. The Intercept should know better,” said Peter Mirijanian, a spokesperson for Kushner’s lawyer Abbe Lowell.

On November 4, a week after Kushner returned to the U.S., the crown prince, known in official Washington by his initials MBS, launched what he called an anti-corruption crackdown. The Saudi government arrested dozens of members of the Saudi royal family and imprisoned them in the Ritz-Carlton Riyadh, which was first reported in English by The Intercept. The Saudi figures named in the President’s Daily Brief were among those rounded up; at least one was reportedly tortured.

While that story line of Trump’s response to the persecution was largely dropped as Alwaleed’s detention drew on early this year, I don’t doubt that Trump’s personal animosity to Alwaleed made him, if anything, at least comfortable if not enthusiastic about MBS’s power grab at Alwaleed’s expense. If so, MBS would have played to Trump’s own penchant for revenge to undercut what otherwise might have been more vocal criticism of the arbitrary treatment of a key international businessman (that said, the US made surprisingly little noise when MBS sidelined Mohammed bin Nayef, either).

And at that moment, MBS established that Trump would not interfere with any crackdown on opposition — because Trump has already bought into it.

42 replies
  1. Eureka says:

    I hadn’t connected or recalled Alwaleed in Trump’s long history of sampling foreign money pots.  Helps make that root of the story make even more sense, thanks.

    Also, can the NYT ever treat serious issues like this … seriously?  Major tone contrasts between the Politico and NYT quoted paras.  Don’t know how they can summon ‘breathless social section voice’ mode for this topic.

  2. Trip says:

    Trump loved the way Duterte assassinated “drug dealers”. I have no doubt that Trump would not only desire to personally order the murders of people, but would take joy in it, as it would feed his ever hungry and demented ego.

  3. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Thank goodness the Saudis didn’t retask an American drone for their wet work.  That would have been embarrassing.  Given the joint US-backed Saudi violence in Yemen, and their apparent cooperation with Israel, I assume MBS thinks the Americans owe him on this one.

    I’m waiting for John Bolton to foam at the mouth about Saudi non-compliance with international norms (the same ones that Trump trashes whenever the bell rings and executive time is over).  He loves the Saudi people, just not their leaders.  That’s the logic Bolton uses when attempting to starve Iranians so that they will change their leadership.  But he’s not likely to use it here.  Godot is more likely to arrive first.

    • Peterr says:

      I assume MBS thinks the Americans owe him on this one.

      Close, but not quite. It’s not about the US “owing” MBS one, but that MBS owns Trump and can take what he wants. From Marcy:

      MBS established that Trump would not interfere with any crackdown on opposition — because Trump has already bought into it.

      And MBS has the receipts.

      That personal MBS-to-Trump phone call likely went something like this: “You don’t want me to reveal your . . . what’s the word? . . . collusion with our past joint activities, do you? That would screw your ability to do any kind of deals, especially in the Middle East. You don’t want me to reveal that your boy Jared gave us the inside scoop from your own Presidential Daily Brief. Foreign intelligence services wouldn’t trust you not to reveal their private information, and they would stop sharing intelligence with you. Potential foreign intelligence sources for your own intelligence services would dry up, because they don’t want to be the next to be outed to God knows who. Your own intelligence community will stop trusting their own president, to protect their sources, and they will curtail what they put into your PDB. If we reveal this, no one would trust you, for fear that you would sell them out.”

      MBS owns Trump. The only question is what else they will choose to ask of him.

  4. Robert says:

    Your choice of friends tells a great deal about you.

    One can certainly draw some disturbing inferences from these and other developments.

  5. Greenhouse says:

    I wonder who is the deep throat for the former administration official?

    A former administration official told POLITICO that MBS had demanded the call earlier in the week after the top official at the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh asked MBS directly about the Khashoggi case. 

    After what happened with Alwaleed, not to mention Hariri, why would anybody visiting Saudi Arabia or an SA consulate believe their lives were in safe, secure hands of these mobbed-up thugs?

  6. yogarhythms says:


    Thank you, MBS attracts suits like bees to honey. Another crack in the wall (Pink Floyd) is Jamal Khashoggi.

  7. CitizenCrone says:

    …Mr. Kushner, who was once himself a newspaper publisher…

    Technically correct, but remember how he tried to use his newspaper for revenge?  That little twerp has no business near intelligence briefs, the government, foreign governments, government programs, or any democratic institution.

    And if the Intercept story is correct (about Kushner turning over names to MBS) then may he be judged by the Red Queen.

  8. fishmanxxx says:

    As a Canadian I’m reminded how our country was heavily criticized and economically punished by the Saudis for “interfering” in their internal affairs. We had no lives lost, in our county’s moral balance, to weigh that action, and I hope that never happens but I clearly see what happens when you give a rogue state an inch through inaction, they take miles and lives! Uncharacteristically I am a very loud and proud Canadian and hope the world stops this economic trade motivated “political niceness”, disguised as diplomacy, cold in its tracks.

    peace out

    • CitizenCrone says:

      She’s brilliant, isn’t she?  Jared’s genius is so well hidden he can’t remember where he put it; no one can remember what it looked like, or when they saw it last.

      How long must this go on?

  9. Bruce Olsen says:

    “First, the prince bought Mr. Trump’s 283-foot yacht for a bargain price of $18 million and with a partner bought out the Plaza, a storied New York hotel, which the Trump Organization owned.”

    Trump paid $407.5 million, then sold it for $325 million (after spending buckets more money on rehabbing it). Nine years later the prince sold it for $625 million.

    So there’s no wonder Trump was after Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia.

    When Reagan was running I heard an author making the case that Reagan’s positions were not principled stands, but rather responses to specific events in his life. IIRC he owned a bunch of land in Anaheim and had a large tax burden when he sold it: hence his anti-tax position.

    No surprise with either, I guess, especially now that Trump is talking about weeding out people in his administration. I guess they’re not self-weeding quickly enough for him.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Lot of potential in money laundering at those price differentials.

      Assuming the prices are fully market driven, then losing over $100 million on a single property is another nail in the coffin of Trump the Magnificent.

      The prince, on the other hand, nearly doubled his money over nine years, representing a more conservative and successful approach to investing.

  10. Rusharuse says:

    Fortunate Son say – “one dead man should in no way prevent me from selling (to my friends) the means to create many dead men”. Money, its a gas . .

    “This took place in Turkey and to the best of our knowledge, Khashoggi is not a United States citizen, he’s a permanent resident,” the president said. “We don’t like it, even a little bit. But as to whether or not we should stop $110 billion dollars from being spent in this country, knowing they [Saudi Arabia] have four or five alternatives, two very good alternatives, that would not be acceptable to me.”

  11. earlofhuntingdon says:

    To jump on the band wagon of scorn for the president’s vacuous, fantasist, empty-suit “meeting” with Kanye West, all we need to know is that it took place the day after Hurricane Michael.

    That hurricane – like all the others – will affect the poor and people of color most dramatically.  Billions in losses – one family, one smashed car, one lost job, one flooded bedroom at a time.

    Mr. Trump is deranged.  He hopes that talking to a marginal musician instead of acting as president will distract from his inability to be president.  He doesn’t understand the job, he can’t do the job.  His only skill is marketing his supposedly successful personality, and that took a major hit after the NYT’s tax expose.

    But there’s a party that likes him for what he is, that loves him for what he is.  It is moving heaven and earth to lock in its gains before Trump finally implodes in a rit of fealous jage.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Saltwater from extraordinary tides and waves can also contaminate water sources for miles inland, and dissipates very slowly.

        • Trip says:

          If you don’t believe in science, none of that happens. /s

          What’s more important, worrying about some citizens in distress, a journalist supposedly murdered and chopped to bits, Earth on the brink of self-immolation, or fiddling around with Kanye? How about traveling to rallies? Like I said: Nero (minus anything good the subjects might have said of him).

    • skua says:

      Trump was gifted with the ability to be a better clown than Rowan Atkison (Mr Bean). He was not given quality vocational advice and he, and everyone else, is immensely poorer for that.

  12. Ollie says:

    This is not normal.  I will not get used to the behavior of trump..  Each time….each time he does something that is even more outrageous than before…I see a bar raised and we all move toward the next moment.  I think my love for the genre THRILLER is vanishing.  This hurts so much.  His followers, they all look like they’re in a trance.

    Your reporting EW is, as always, is excellent.  Serious question?  Where does this all end?  I saw the stock market dropped by 800 yesterday and I found myself giving serious hope to a total collapse…. 
    Like.  Lose it all.  I don’t know if we have anyone strong enough to save this country…..even collectively.

    What’s happening to me.  Thanks.

  13. JD12 says:

    “Some questions by the media are so obviously false and ridiculous that they merit no response. This is one. The Intercept should know better,” said Peter Mirijanian, a spokesperson for Kushner’s lawyer Abbe Lowell.

    Some answers by spokespeople are so obviously false and ridiculous that it becomes safe to presume that with their non-denial denial they’re really answering in the affirmative. He says this one merits no response but gives one anyway. And, a question cannot be false.

    I’ve no doubt that Jared dropped the dime on Alwaleed, though he may have just been trying to bond and didn’t fully anticipate how MBS would respond.

    As Trip mentions above, DJT probably wishes he could do himself what MBS allegedly did to Khashoggi.

    Trump and his family clearly wish they were royalty and could rule with an iron fist. Jared tries to conceal his priapism for authoritarian rule but occasionally the media shows glimpses of it. Trump cannot hide his. Pleated pants are no longer fashionable so he cannot claim it’s an optical illusion. Trump is the first president in my lifetime that I fully believe would jump without hesitation at the opportunity if the country offered to rip up the Constitution and crown him.

    My thoughts keep returning to Trump’s speech at the UN. It was announced ahead of time that the theme would be sovereignty. Basically his message (except for the part about Iran) was that the US won’t police the world anymore so you do what you want. His bashing of the UN Human Rights Council and the ICC wasn’t nuanced and signaled that the US doesn’t care about human rights anymore. MBS—who doesn’t speak English—easily could’ve thought DJT meant political murder on sovereign territory—which technically includes the Saudi consulate in Istanbul—was acceptable.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Nikki Haley should never have been at the UN.  She was governor of a medium-sized conservative southern state with a bachelor’s degree in accounting.

      She had no background or experience – other than being of recent mixed ancestry (as are we all, somewhere in our past) – that would have made her a suitable choice.  Trump liked her looks, and needed someone on his team who wasn’t a white male seconded from Goldman Sachs or an elderly billionaire.

      Her background might have been suitable for some post, but not remotely was she qualified for the UN.  That’s standard procedure for Trump.  He wants his people to make their agencies unworkable so that his patrons can have free rein.  Given that Trump intended to break all norms – rather, was incapable of complying with any – he just needed someone to make excuses for him.  She did.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      A hundred ten billion dollars in arms purchases buys a lot of political risk insurance.  Saudi oil sales and pricing buy a lot of it, too.

      Trump was never gonna fight that calculus.  But he should heed one of the few pearls of wisdom once attributed to Henry Kissinger on this topic – what goes around, comes around, Mr. President.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          I think he’s already tried the reach around on the Don, but his arms weren’t long enough, not that the Don would understand anything that he says.  But there are probably Trump staff who still think Henry has something worthwhile to say.

    • JD12 says:

      I couldn’t believe it when Trump said punishing the Saudis will cost jobs. Politico reported a few months ago that when aides try to brief him on foreign countries he always asks about the trade defecit and and arms sales. He’s so simple and predictable it’s embarrassing.

  14. x174 says:

    it seems possible that the Saudi murder of Khashoggi, which Turkey claims to have audio visual evidence to confirm, may be part of a sting operation to ensnare drumpf and jared. it seems that the us had fair warning that K had become an assassination target but this information was never acted on. some (dkos) are framing it as a failure of duty to warn. but what if, the heads up on K led to upping the video surveillance of the Saudi embassy in Turkey. the idea of a us-turkey intelligence collaboration seems to be confirmed in part by the release (after 2 years) of the us pastor who had been accused of being a spy. though again, some commenters are arguing that this is really a move to insulate trump and provide him with some political cover and positive reportage.

    other than the fact that some of the pieces seem to fit together at this early stage, the fun part is to see if this assumed us-turkey intelligence collaboration has any merit.

    if so, it might spell curtains for jared and complicate trump’s special prosecutorial escape plan.

    what an ominous death; and trump and mnunchin’s behavior makes it incredibly horrifying and repellant.

  15. Trip says:

    This is truly horrifying, chilling, Orwellian, but it is a must read:

    An internment camp for 10 million Uyghurs, Meduza visits China’s dystopian police state
    https://meduza .io /en/feature/2018/10/01/an-internment-camp-for-10-million-uyghurs

    • Rayne says:

      I’ve disabled that URL by inserting blank spaces. I know I’ve told you before I have concerns about that site. Do you not have alternative sources for that story?

      • Trip says:

        No, I don’t. Sorry, I don’t recall you having an issue with it, you might have responded and I may not have returned to the comment. Next time, I’ll intentionally break it. Should I be concerned about security going there? It hasn’t seemed to be a place where they carry water for the Kremlin or Putin. Do you know of issues?

        Anyway, it was a scary read; concentration camps, reeducation, cameras and surveillance everywhere.

        • Rayne says:

          This is its Wikipedia entry: Meduza

          It’s primarily a news aggregator, which suggests the news they publish can be acquired from a different source. They have their own limited reporting but given the background of this news outlet they are a prime target for traffic sniffing and worse by the Kremlin, which I pointed out the last time you shared one of their links in August.

          You’ve shared Meduza links ~20 times and each time I’ve had to break the link and add a cautionary statement. Be more cautious about sourcing and links you share here.

          • Trip says:

            Okay. I just won’t post them. It has some good stories, but now I’ll be worried to read there, which I suppose is the purpose of the “sniffing”.

  16. Trip says:

    The sourcing was dubious on the rumor about sharing intelligence on the prince’s “enemies” in exchange for personal business opportunities (“in my pocket”), but it sure does sound like a Trump, Inc. (Kushner) Maneuver. My question is, would it be necessary? Don’t the Saudis have their own intelligence apparatus with intercepts?

  17. AndTheSlithyToves says:

    For those of us who are older and have long memories, this whole situation raises the specter of another Khashoggi, Jamal’s Uncle Adnan. If that doesn’t ring a bell, think Middle-East arms dealers, Iran-Contra Scandal, Lockheed-Martin Scandal, etc. Never forget, what’s old is always new again.

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