WASHINGTON, D.C. - What has all the appearances of a conspiracy by the Saudi government to murder a very high-profile Washington Post journalist in a Saudi embassy in Turkey, has become a tense international crisis involving delicate power relations among key geopolitical powers – and vast sums of money.
The Washington Post journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, a notable critic of the Saudi government, and a Saudi national living in Northern Virginia with permanent resident status, visited the Saudi Arabian embassy in Turkey on October 2.
CCTV image of the missing Saudi Journalist Jamal Khashoggi entering the Saudi consulate on Tuesday oct 2nd at 13:14 local time
Turkish surveillance cameras show Khashoggi entering the building that day, but never leaving, and the Turkish government says it has video and audio footage to prove Khashoggi was viciously beaten, gruesomely tortured, and then murdered.
The Washington Post reports that U.S. intelligence intercepts reveal:
"The crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, ordered an operation to lure Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia from his home in Virginia and then detain him."
CNN was the first to report that the Saudi government is preparing to admit that Jamal Khashoggi died inadvertently in a botched interrogation that did not receive clearance from the Saudi Crown, calling it an "unlikely explanation" for the killing.
(A Turkish official who has listened to an audio recording of the murder says Khashoggi died in under seven minutes.)
Two days later, CNN reported that the Saudi officer who led the deadly encounter with Khashoggi is a high-ranking official in the Saudi government, "with close ties to the inner circle of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman."
Predictably Democrats Attack Donald Trump's Response to Saudi Crisis
Senate Democrats have criticized President Donald Trump for suggesting to White House reporters that "rogue killers" and not the Saudi government might be responsible for the disappearance of the Saudi journalist, prompting Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) to say Donald Trump is acting as a "PR agent" for Saudi Arabia.
Sen. Murphy said:
"Been hearing the ridiculous 'rogue killers' theory was where the Saudis would go with this. Absolutely extaordinary they were able to enlist the President of the United States as their PR agent to float it."
Tim Kaine criticized the president's response to the crisis along the lines of the familiar Democratic Party complaint that Donald Trump is an instrument of Russia and Vladimir Putin, with an unseemly adversarial relationship to the U.S. intelligence community for a sitting president.
"President Trump’s response to Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance reveals a man more willing to trust authoritarian leaders than reliable intelligence," Kaine said.
But in this case, Donald Trump's timidity toward the Saudi government may have something to do with preventing the expansion of the Russian Federation's influence into the region, and losing billions of dollars in U.S. arms industry sales to Russia.
And the criticisms of Democratic leaders appear to be predictable partisan attacks, rather than sincere stands on principle. Especially when taking into account the consistent willingness of Democrats, along with Republicans, over the years to walk hand in hand with the Saudi government despite its abysmal record on human rights and as a prolific sponsor of Islamic terrorism.
After all, Donald Trump's Democratic predecessor, President Barack Obama, had to defend his administration's cozy relationship with the Saudi government as well, despite the fact that "3,000 allegations of torture were formally recorded" against Saudi Arabia between 2009 to 2015, according to the United Nations.
Obama's justification for this was:
"Sometimes we need to balance our need to speak to them about human rights issues with immediate concerns we have in terms of counter-terrorism or dealing with regional stability."
And in 2016, the Democratic Party nominated Hillary Clinton with the rather forceful influence of the party's leaders. Over and above the consistently friendly U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia, the Clinton family has strong ties to the government of Saudi Arabia, with the Clinton Foundation disclosing in 2008 that Saudi Arabia had given "between $10 million and $25 million" to the foundation.
Sen. Rand Paul Charts Independent Course on Saudi Arabia Crisis
While both major parties in Washington have long supported a consistent policy of friendship and a military alliance with Saudi Arabia, a few policymakers led by Rand Paul on Capitol Hill have tried to bring the Saudi government's human rights record to light for years.
Paul's warnings against U.S. entanglement with the Saudi government have become more frequent and urgent in recent months, as Saudi military intervention in Yemen, one of the world's poorest countries -- ravaged by civil war -- has led to a full-blown humanitarian crisis.
In April, Saudi bombs struck a wedding, killing 20 people. In August, the mainstream media was stunningly silent after the Saudi military struck a school bus in a crowded marketplace in Yemen with a laser-guided Mark 82 bomb sold by the U.S. and manufactured by Lockheed Martin, killing 40 children.
In an op-ed on Fox News Tuesday, Sen. Paul published a jaw dropping list of Saudi Arabian human rights abuses and ties to terrorist activity around the world. Paul has vowed to force a vote in the U.S. Senate on a bill that would end federal military aid and assistance to Saudi Arabia, "until the Secretary of State certifies to Congress that journalist Jamal Khashoggi is alive and free..."
The ongoing bipartisan support for Saudi Arabia in Washington has been a major point of disagreement between Rand Paul and Donald Trump, but the Kentucky Senator says "the president may come around on this if there is any evidence they killed this journalist."