In the wake of reports about the alleged gruesome murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Instanbul, a news story from 2016 has been making the rounds on social media the past few days, adding more intrigue to the Saudi government’s silence over the matter and President Trump‘s willingness to provide cover for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
In December of 2016, Middle East Eye reported that Saudi authorities banned Khashoggi from “writing in newspapers, appearing on TV and attending conferences” in the country. But it wasn’t due to any critiques he had for the Saudi government. The reason? He criticized Trump.
Khashoggi’s comments were made during a talk at a Washington think tank the month before. Among other things, Khashoggi was critical of the U.S. for allowing Trump to attain the presidency. The Saudis released an official statement soon after, saying Khashoggi’s views ran counter to those of the Saudi government.
“The author Jamal Khashoggi does not represent the government of Saudi Arabia or its positions at any level, and … his opinions only represent his personal views not that of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the Saudi Press Agency said at the time.
The story’s recirculation this week had some on social media commenting on its “unsettling” nature. Some of the speculation ventured into the conspiratorial realm, as there’s no evidence that Trump or any of his associates had anything to do with Khashoggi’s disappearance.
“Don’t forget, Khashoggi was banned from SA in December 2016 because he criticized Trump,” Twitter user @fritzcokid
wrote. “Can anyone name any other journalist banned from their homeland for criticizing the leader of a foreign country?”
Some drew a connection between Trump’s defense of MBS and Khashoggi’s anti-Trump comments.
“So it turns out that the Saudis initially banned #Khashoggi for criticizing Trump,” @JoelMCurzon wrote. “Now Trump is defending the Saudis after they (apparently) tortured and butchered Khashoggi. Quid pro quo?”
why has Trump administration been so quiet about apparent murder of WashPost columnist by Saudi agents? unclear. but worth noting: Saudis had banned the columnist for criticizing Trump https://t.co/QVmAPaII0N
— John Harwood (@JohnJHarwood) October 12, 2018
Unsubstantiated speculation aside, Jared Kushner‘s close ties to MBS are getting renewed attention in light of the alleged murder, prompting him to take a break from any kind of public comment on the matter although he reportedly still remains very involved behind the scenes.
President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and top adviser has remained involved in the administration’s efforts, two sources familiar with the matter said, quietly leveraging his close relationship with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman throughout the saga when asked and retreating to the sidelines when necessary. The sources said Kushner is wary of overstepping, mindful of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s purview as the nation’s top diplomat.
Senior administration officials said Kushner’s close relationship with bin Salman was an early cause for concern among career national security staffers, who worried off-the-books conversations with the young prince could lead to misunderstandings or worse. Kushner is known to have messaged with the prince on the communication app WhatsApp.
A recent report from The New York Times talks about the existence of audio recordings held by Turkish officials that captured the murder, saying that Khashoggi “was dead within minutes, beheaded, dismembered, his fingers severed, and within two hours the killers were gone.”
Before he was banned in 2016, Khashoggi was editor-in-chief at a number of Saudi newspapers, including The Arab Times and Al-Watan.