News & Politics

Trump: 'Severe Punishment' if Saudi Journalist Was Murdered

FILE - In this Feb. 1, 2015, file photo, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi speaks during a press conference in Manama, Bahrain. The Washington Post said Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018, it was concerned for the safety of Khashoggi, a columnist for the newspaper, after he apparently went missing after going to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali, File)

Donald Trump said in an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” that the U.S. would get to the bottom of what happened to Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi and that if it is discovered he was murdered, there will be “severe punishment.”

“As of this moment, they deny it and they deny it vehemently. Could it be them? Yes,” he said, in what are his strongest comments yet on the matter.

Incredibly, a Turkish newspaper is reporting that there may be actual audio evidence of Khashoggi’s murder. According to the Turkish source Sabah, the journalist turned on the recording function on his Apple before entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

CNN:

The moments of his “interrogation, torture and killing were audio recorded and sent to both his phone and to iCloud,” the pro-government, privately owned newspaper paper reported. The Turkish newspaper said conversations of the men involved in the reported assassination were recorded.

Security forces leading the investigation found the audio file inside the phone Khashoggi left with his fiancé, according to Sabah.

Upon noticing the watch, Sabah reports, Khashoggi’s assailants tried to unlock the Apple Watch with multiple password attempts, ultimately using Khashoggi’s fingerprint to unlock the smart watch. They were successful in deleting only some of the files, Sabah reported.

I’m no expert, but fingerprint ID on an Apple watch?

However, on its website, Apple does not list fingerprint verification as one of the Apple Watch’s capabilities. A representative from the company confirmed to CNN the watches do not have the feature.

It was not immediately clear whether it would have been technically feasible for Khashoggi’s Apple Watch to transfer audio to his phone, which he had given to his fiancée before entering the consulate.

CNN cannot independently verify the Sabah report and is seeking comment from both Saudi and Turkish officials.

CNN intelligence and security analyst Robert Baer cast doubt on the claim, saying it was too far for a Bluetooth connection and that Khashoggi was unlikely to have anticipated transmitting a recording in advance. “I think what’s happened, clearly, is the Turks have the Saudi consulate wired, they have transmitters,” he told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

Whether they have the recordings or not is immaterial. The question is, should we believe anything about this case coming from the Turkish government?

President Erdogan would like nothing better than to drive a wedge between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, given the current state of relations between the two Middle East powers. The Saudis are standing in the way of Erdogan’s dream of expanding Ankara’s influence in the region and a break in U.S.-Saudi relations would weaken the kingdom dramatically.

Khashoggi may very well have been murdered in the consulate on the orders of Crown Prince Salman. He was a “stone in the shoe” of the Saudi regime after his published writings in the west, including for the Washington Post, highlighted the gangster tactics of the royal family and their numerous human rights abuses. He could be dead or he could have been spirited out of Turkey to a Saudi jail before certain execution.

Khashoggi’s disappearance has become a political issue with administration foes who are excoriating the president for being too close to the Saudis. There are even accusations that Trump won’t sanction Saudi Arabia because he and his family personally profit from the relationship.

Since we don’t know what happened to Khashoggi yet, it would seem a bit premature for sanctions. At stake is a hundred billion dollars in arms sales that would cost thousands of American jobs if they were canceled.

Trump, quite rightly, is waiting for evidence before deciding on a course of action. His critics are not. Just who is it that “shoots from the hip” on foreign policy?