U.S. President Donald Trump says he has been fully briefed on an audio recording of the killing of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside Riyadh’s consulate in Istanbul last month, but has no intention of listening to it because of the violence it depicts.
“It’s a suffering tape. It’s a terrible tape,” Trump told Fox News Sunday in a White House interview that was taped Friday.
“It’s very violent, very vicious and terrible,” Trump said.
Trump said Saturday the U.S. government would release its findings on the October 2 killing of Khashoggi on Tuesday. The State Department says no final conclusions have been reached, although some U.S. news accounts have reported that the Central Intelligence Agency has concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Riyadh’s de facto leader, ordered the killing.
Asked in the Fox interview if the crown prince lied to him about his involvement, Trump replied, “I don’t know. Who can really know? But I can say this, he’s got many people… that say he had no knowledge.”
Trump added, “He told me that he had nothing to do with it. He told me that, I would say, maybe five times at different points, as recently as a few days ago.”
Saudi Arabia has filed charges against 11 operatives accused of involvement in Khashoggi’s killing and said it will seek the death penalty against five of them.
Trump conceded that people close to the prince “were probably involved.” But he said, “I want to stick with an ally that in many ways has been very good.”
Fox interviewer Chris Wallace asked Trump whether he would go along with moves in Congress to cut off U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen or halt arms sales to Riyadh, but Trump said it depends.
“I want to see Yemen end,” he said. “It takes two to tango and Iran has to end also. I want Saudi to stop but I want Iran to stop also.”
Trump was briefed Saturday on the U.S. investigation of the killing of Khashoggi by telephone by CIA Director Gina Haspel and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo while the president was aboard Air Force One en route to California to inspect the devastation from wildfires in the western state.
The State Department said the U.S. government “is determined to hold all those responsible for the killing… accountable” but that “numerous unanswered questions” remain.
The assessment by the CIA, first reported Friday by The Washington Post, contradicts that of Saudi Arabia, whose top prosecutor one day earlier exonerated the crown prince in the killing of Khashoggi.
U.S. officials say the CIA concluded that 15 Saudi agents flew in a Saudi government aircraft to Istanbul and assassinated Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate.
Khashoggi, who wrote opinion columns for the Post and was a critic of the Saudi crown prince, was killed at the Saudi consulate while he was trying to get documents for his planned marriage to a Turkish woman.
The Post said the CIA based its conclusion on multiple sources of intelligence, including a phone call that the prince’s brother, Khalid bin Salman, who is also the Saudi ambassador to the United States, had with Khashoggi.
In the phone call, Khalid told Khashoggi that it would be safe for him to go the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to retrieve the documents for his marriage. The paper said it was not known whether or not Khalid knew Khashoggi would be killed.
Khalid denied in a tweet on Friday that he had spoken with Khashoggi.
“The last contact I had with Mr. Khashoggi was via text on Oct. 26, 2017. I never talked to him by phone and certainly never suggested he go to Turkey for any reason. I ask the U.S. government to release any information regarding this claim,” he said. (VOA)
President Donald Trump’s aggressive and unpredictable use of tariffs is spooking American business groups, which have long formed a potent force in his Republican Party. Trade
Corporate America was blindsided last week when Trump threatened to impose crippling taxes on Mexican imports in a push to stop the flow of Central American migrants into the United States.
The two sides reached a truce Friday after Mexico agreed to do more to stop the migrants. But by Monday, Trump was again threatening the tariffs if Mexico didn’t abide by an unspecified commitment, to “be revealed in the not too distant future.”
Such whipsawing is now a hallmark of Trump’s trade policy. The president repeatedly threatens tariffs, sometimes imposes them, sometimes suspends them, sometimes threatens them again. Or drops them.
Business groups, already uncomfortable with Trump’s attempts to stem immigration, are struggling to figure out where to stand in the fast-shifting political climate. They have happily supported Trump’s corporate tax cuts and moves to loosen environmental and other regulations. But the capriciousness of Trump’s use of tariffs has proved alarming.
“Business is losing,” said Rick Tyler, a Republican strategist and frequent Trump critic. “He calls himself ‘Mr. Tariff man.’ He’s proud of it. … It’s bad news for the party. It’s bad news for the free market.”
“It was a good wakeup call for business,” James Jones, chairman of Monarch Global Strategies and a former U.S. ambassador to Mexico, said of Trump’s abrupt move to threaten to tax Mexican goods.
Creating distance from Trump
Just last week, the sprawling network led by the billionaire industrialist Charles Koch announced the creation of several political action committees focused on policy — including one devoted to free trade — to back Republicans or Democrats who break with Trump’s trade policies. A powerful force in Republican politics, the network is already a year into a “multi-year multi-million dollar” campaign to promote the dangers of tariff and protectionist trade policies.
The Chamber of Commerce, too, is in the early phases of disentangling itself from the Republican Party after decades of loyalty. The Chamber, which spent at least $29 million largely to help Republicans in the 2016 election, announced earlier this year that it would devote more time and attention to Democrats on Capitol Hill while raising the possibility of supporting Democrats in 2020.
Few expect the Chamber or business-backed groups like the Koch network to suddenly embrace Democrats in a significant way. But even a subtle shift to withhold support from vulnerable Republican candidates could make a difference in 2020.
Trump’s boundless enthusiasm for tariffs has upended decades of Republican trade policy that favored free trade. It has left the party’s traditional allies in the business world struggling to maintain political relevance in the Trump era.
Trump’s tariffs are taxes paid by American importers and are typically passed along to their customers. They can provoke retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports. And they can paralyze businesses, uncertain about where they should buy supplies or situate factories.
“Knowing the rules helps us plan for the future,” said Jeff Schwager, president of Sartori, a cheese company that has had to contend with retaliatory tariffs in Mexico in an earlier dispute.
Trump seems unfazed.
Myron Brilliant, head of international affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, went on CNBC on Monday to decry “the weaponization of tariffs” as a threat to the U.S. economy and to relations with trading partners.
Trump responded by phoning in to the network to declare “I guess he’s not so brilliant” and defend his trade policies.
“Tariffs,” he said, “are a beautiful thing.”
Trump can afford to be confident about his grip over the party: Roughly nine in 10 rank-and-file Republicans support his performance as president, according to the latest Gallup polling. So Republicans in Congress have been reluctant to tangle with him.
But last week’s flareup over the Mexico tariffs may prove to be a pivotal juncture. The spat was especially alarming to businesses because it came seemingly out of nowhere. Less than two weeks earlier, Trump had lifted tariffs on Mexican and Canadian steel and aluminum — action that seemed to signal warmer commercial ties between the United States and its neighbors.
“This really came out of left field,” said Daniel Ujczo, a trade lawyer at Dickinson Wright. “It was something we thought we had settled, and we hadn’t.”
Congress was already showing signs of wariness, especially over Trump’s decision to dust off a little-used provision of trade law to slap tariffs on trading partners. Section 232 of the Trade Expansion of 1962 lets the president impose sanctions on imports that he deems a threat to national security.
Trump has deployed that provision to tax imported steel and aluminum. And he’s threatening to impose Section 232 tariffs on auto imports, a chilling threat to American allies Japan and the European Union.
Congress is considering bipartisan legislation to weaken the president’s authority to declare national-security tariffs. In doing so, lawmakers would be reasserting Congress’ authority over trade policy, established by the Constitution but ceded over the years to the White House.
The legislation has stalled in Congress this spring. But on Tuesday, Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said the bill would be ready “pretty soon.” Given “how the president feels about tariffs,” Grassley said, “he may not look favorably on this. So I want a very strong vote in my committee and then, in turn, a very strong vote on the floor of the Senate.”
Congressional reluctance to challenge Trump could be tested in coming months. Lawmakers may balk if he proceeds with plans to tax $300 billion worth of Chinese goods that he hasn’t already targeted with tariffs — a move that would jack up what consumers pay for everything from bicycles to burglar.
Likewise, taxing auto imports — an idea that has virtually no support outside the White House — would likely meet furious resistance. So would any move to abandon a trade pact with Mexico and Canada. Trump has threatened to withdraw from the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement if Congress won’t ratify a revamped version he negotiated last year.
For all their disenchantment with Trump, the Chamber of Commerce may yet find it hard to break its ties to the party. Though the chamber says it’s weighing a more bipartisan approach, it recently featured a sign on its front steps: It likened Trump to Republican icons Ronald Reagan and Dwight Eisenhower. (VOA)