Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has withstood criticism in the past.
Correction: This story was based on reporting by the New York Times that has since been updated. This piece now reflects the new reporting on Jared Kushner’s advice to President Trump about Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Jared Kushner reportedly told President Donald Trump to back Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — despite mounting evidence that the royal was involved in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi two weeks ago.
Kushner’s reasoning? The royal, also known as MBS, has withstood past criticism. Indeed, despite masterminding Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen and kidnapping Lebanon’s prime minister, MBS remains the de facto leader of his country and has strong ties with foreign leaders.
That tidbit came in a Thursday New York Times report, which also notes that Riyadh plans to blame a Saudi intelligence official — Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri, who is close to the crown prince — for Khashoggi’s murder.
As of now, it’s still unclear what, exactly, happened to the Saudi journalist or who is responsible. But some reports indicate that Khashoggi was beaten, killed, and posthumously dismembered inside Istanbul’s Saudi Consulate on October 2. Turkish authorities are searching for his remains in wooded areas outside of Istanbul.
Trump told reporters on Thursday afternoon that it “certainly looks” like Khashoggi is dead, and vowed “severe” consequences if Saudi royals were behind the possible killing.
Kushner has cultivated a personal relationship with MBS while serving as senior White House adviser for Middle East affairs. He and the crown prince even text on WhatsApp, an encrypted messaging app. Because of his close ties to the Saudi royal, Kushner has purposely stayed out of the spotlight during the scandal.
Trump is unlikely to punish Saudi Arabia
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday told reporters that the administration will give Saudi Arabia a few more days to conduct a probe into what happened to Khashoggi. It’s doubtful the investigation will be an impartial one, or that MBS — who US intelligence says knew about the Khashoggi plan — will be held responsible.
That’s all well and good for Trump, who has shown no real appetite for imposing huge costs on Riyadh.
The president has said repeatedly said he doesn’t want to take any actions that could imperil a litany of arms sales to Riyadh that could total $110 billion. What’s more, he has noted that Khashoggi was a US resident, but not a citizen, therefore suggesting that his disappearance and alleged murder didn’t merit a stern response from America.
However, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Thursday withdrew from a big Saudi conference scheduled for next week — the only official rebuke of Riyadh since Khashoggi’s disappearance.
That means it’s possible the administration will change course and take steps to punish Riyadh down the line. But for now, it doesn’t look like that’s likely to happen.