Time and time again, President Donald Trump seems to side with dictators over his own intelligence community. Take the case of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, with the two most recent examples occurring during a Fox News interview that aired on Sunday.
The New York Times reported on Friday that the CIA has concluded Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman directly ordered the killing of Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul last month.
Although the State Department subsequently released a statement trying to tamp down on the Times’s reporting, the CIA’s reported conclusion serves as the latest, strongest evidence that the crown prince lied to Trump when he repeatedly denied involvement in Khashoggi’s death.
During an interview with Fox News that aired on Sunday, however, Trump indicated he doesn’t necessarily trust his intelligence community over the crown prince’s denials.
Asked by host Chris Wallace if he thinks the crown prince lied to him, Trump suggested nobody can really be sure about anything.
“I don’t know, you know, who can really know?” Trump said. “But I can say this — he’s got many people now that say he had no knowledge.”
Wallace interjected to press Trump, saying, “what if the crown prince, speaking to you, the president of the United States, directly lied to you?” But Trump indicated he’s not particularly bothered by that possibility.
“Well, he told me that he had nothing to do with it,” Trump continued. “He told me that I would say maybe five times at different points, as recently as a few days ago. ... Will anybody really know? Will anybody really know?”
Trump says he "doesn't want to hear the tape" of Khasoggi's murder b/c "it's a suffering tape. It's a terrible tape. I've been fully briefed on it"— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) November 18, 2018
He adds he's not sure if Mohammed bin Salman lied to him because "he told me he had nothing to do w/it...will anybody really know?" pic.twitter.com/xjo239IIdh
Trump’s comments about the crown prince weren’t the only time during the Fox News interview that he indicated he’s putting blind faith in a dictator.
The president responded to reports North Korea is expanding its missile program by telling Wallace, “Maybe they are, maybe they’re not. I don’t believe that. Could be.” Moments earlier, Trump touted his “very good relationship” with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.
TRUMP ON HIS DECISION-MAKING PROCESS: "I don't think about it. I don't think about how I make 'em. I make what I consider to be the right decision."— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) November 18, 2018
TRUMP ON REPORTS NORTH KOREA IS EXPANDING NUCLEAR PROGRAM: "Maybe they are, maybe they're not. I don't believe that. Could be." pic.twitter.com/3yZW4ivd9B
Trump’s deference to Kim and the crown prince is reminiscent of the deference he’s shown Russian President Vladimir Putin, who denies meddling in the 2016 American presidential election despite the US intelligence community concluding otherwise.
During his joint news conference with Putin in Helsinki in July, Trump drew an equivalence between Putin’s denials and the work of his own intelligence agencies.
“My people came to me, [Director of National Intelligence] Dan Coats came to me and some others they said they think it’s Russia,” Trump said. “I have President Putin, he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this. I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
Trump’s antipathy to the intelligence community dates back at least to early 2017, when top intelligence officials went public with their conclusion that Russia meddled in the presidential election on Trump’s behalf. The then-president-elect responded to that development by comparing the intelligence community’s tactics to those used by “Nazi Germany.”