Trump’s confidant defends Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi’s murder, apologises

Washington: Tom Barrack, a billionaire real estate investor who is one of President Donald Trump’s closest confidants, has defended Saudi Arabia over journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s killing, saying that the US does not have the moral authority to criticise the kingdom due to its own record of “atrocities”.

Barrack made the comments on Tuesday at a summit in Abu Dhabi organised by the Santa Monica, California-based Milken Institute think tank. He apologised for his remarks on Wednesday.

“Whatever happened in Saudi Arabia, the atrocities in America are equal or worse to the atrocities in Saudi Arabia,” Barrack had told the crowd at the Milken Institute’s MENA Summit, the Washington Post reported citing Gulf News.

“The atrocities in any autocratic country are dictated by the rule of law. So, for us to dictate what we think is the moral code there – when we have a young man (Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman) and a regime that’s trying to push themselves into 2030 – I think is a mistake.”

Barrack was also a top fundraiser during Trump’s 2016 campaign and helped raise more than $100 million as chairman of Trump’s inaugural committee. His remarks invited criticism back home.

“There is never a time that you can go murder a journalist in a foreign country, dismember them and carry their body off and say that somehow that’s justifiable,” Republican Senator James Lankford said.

“It never, ever is justifiable and it doesn’t equate to anything that’s happened in the US where we stand up for the free press,” he added.

Later, Barrack issued a statement, calling the murder of Khashoggi “atrocious” and “inexcusable” and apologised for “not making this clear in my comments earlier this week”.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and prominent critic of the Crown Prince’s policies, was killed and dismembered by a team of Saudi agents inside the kingdom’s Consulate in Istanbul on October 2.

The Central Intelligence Agency concluded last year that the Crown Prince ordered Khashoggi’s killing. But Saudi officials rejected that assertion and said the agents who killed the journalist were acting against orders.

Despite apologising, Barrack suggested that the responsibility of the murder should not rest on Saudi leadership.

“I feel strongly that the bad acts of a few should not be interpreted as the failure of an entire sovereign kingdom,” he said, maintaining that “rule of law and monarchies across the Middle East are confusing to the West”.

Several Republicans had earlier joined Democrats in accusing the Trump administration of misleading the country and obscuring the truth of Bin Salman’s alleged involvement in the murder. Khashoggi’s body has not been found yet.