Cash or Khashoggi
President Donald Trump sounds insulted that anyone would think he's going soft on the Saudis because they've been so nice for his personal bottom line. "For the record, I have no financial interests in Saudi Arabia (or Russia, for that matter). Any suggestion that I have is just more FAKE NEWS," he tweeted Tuesday.
Correct. Trump doesn't invest in them, as far as is known. They invest in him.
In the 1990s, Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin-Talal joining other investors in a $325 million bailout deal for Trump's money-hemorrhaging Plaza Hotel in Manhattan. In 2001, Trump sold the entire 45th floor of Trump World Tower across from the UN to the kingdom for $12 million.
"Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million," Trump told an Alabama rally in 2015. "Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much." Since he became president, the Saudis have been big-spending customers for Trump's hotels.
But no worries — Trump is still on the job of finding out what happened to Jamal Khashoggi, The Washington Post contributor feared to have been murdered and chopped to pieces inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.
On Monday, after a call with King Salman, Trump previewed one scenario the Saudis floated: that Khashoggi met his demise in a case of an interrogation and abduction by rogue agents gone awry. On Tuesday, Trump said he spoke with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom's de facto ruler.
Trump tweeted that the prince "totally denied any knowledge of what took place in their Turkish Consulate" and "told me that he has already started, and will rapidly expand, a full and complete investigation into this matter. Answers will be forthcoming shortly." He told Fox Business Network: "If they knew about it, that would be bad."
Trump for the defense
In another interview, with The Associated Press, Trump likened the cloud of suspicion over the Saudi royals to the one faced recently by Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
"Here we go again with, you know, you're guilty until proven innocent. I don't like that. We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh and he was innocent all the way as far as I'm concerned," Trump said.
The New York Times reported that one member of the suspected Saudi hit squad identified by Turkey has been a frequent companion of the crown prince, traveling with him on visits to Paris, Madrid, Houston, Boston and the UN. Three others among the 15 agents are linked by witnesses and other records to the Saudi crown prince’s security detail, the report said. A fifth is a forensic doctor with senior positions in the Interior Ministry and medical establishment.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who was one of Kavanaugh's staunchest defenders, evidently doesn't see a parallel. "He had this guy murdered," Graham said of the crown prince.
Janison: Saudi sandstorm
Friendliness with Saudi Arabia, not to mention arms sales to the autocratic oil state, have left past Republican presidents, including Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, vulnerable to Democratic attacks.
This time, Trump is hearing calls for a tougher line from both parties in Congress. See Dan Janison's column for Newsday.
Tired of whinnying
Fresh off winning a legal skirmish against porn star Stormy Daniels, Trump took a victory lap by indulging in a favorite pastime: insulting the looks of women who have crossed him.
"Great, now I can go after Horseface and her 3rd rate lawyer," he tweeted.
Unbowed, the woman who said she was paid $130,000 to keep quiet about a sex fling with Trump fired back with a tweet of her own, saying Trump "has demonstrated his incompetence, hatred of women and lack of self control on Twitter." She concluded: "Game on, Tiny."
Was that a reference to the ratings for Trump's "60 Minutes" interview Sunday, which were barely more than half the size of the viewership for Daniels' appearance on the show in March? Probably not.
Trump's tweet on Daniels showed the perils of the president's casual attitude toward the rules of writing.
Because he used a comma instead of semicolon, there was a backfire in this line dissing Daniels: "She knows nothing about me, a total con!"
What else is happening:
- A poll for the Military Times finds Trump's approval among active-duty members of the armed forces has slipped since two years ago. Trump was once favored by 46% to 37%. Now it's a virtual tie, with 44% approving and 43% disapproving, and Trump does far worse among military women.
- Michael Cohen is putting out word he wants to campaign against Republicans and his ex-boss, but Democrats aren't jumping at the offer from the jailbound former Trump lawyer, CNN reports.
- Cohen, Trump's longtime fixer and business associate, got another retroactive demotion from Trump in the AP interview. He called him "a PR person who did small legal work,” and attacked Cohen's sworn statement in court that Trump directed the Daniels payoff "totally false."
- Pentagon chief Jim Mattis said Trump reassured him of his full support after the president snarked that his defense secretary was “sort of a Democrat” who could leave at some point. Mattis also said he has never registered with any political party.
- Trump threatened to halt aid to Honduras if it doesn't stop a caravan of some 2,000 migrants now in Guatemala that is hoping to reach the U.S. border.
- PEN America, a New York-based group of writers and journalists, accused Trump in a federal lawsuit of violating the First Amendment by threatening and retaliating against those who cover his administration critically, reports Newsday's John Riley. The examples cited included regulatory saber-rattling at media owners.
- A spokeswoman for Melania Trump called for a boycott of Atlanta rapper T.I. for a video that shows a woman resembling the first lady stripping in the Oval Office.