Less than a day after drawing bipartisan ire for appearing to let Saudi Arabia off the hook for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, President Donald Trump indicated he was ready to move on to other topics, tweeting thanks to the country for falling oil prices.
“Oil prices getting lower. Great! Like a big Tax Cut for America and the World. Enjoy! $54, was just $82,” he said. “Thank you to Saudi Arabia, but let’s go lower!”
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Trump’s tweet ensures that a spotlight will remain on what has become a controversial friendship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia after Trump on Tuesday appeared to defy his intelligence agencies and stand with the Saudis for economic reasons — though his view that lower oil prices are a net positive is in dispute. While lower oil prices can translate to lower prices for consumers at the gas pump, they could also result in less investment in the industry, effects that are more likely to be felt in the United States now with its growing role in the oil-exporting economy.
In an exclamation-point-filled statement Tuesday, Trump appeared to attempt to get out in front of a CIA report expected to pin the blame for Khashoggi’s murder inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
“Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” Trump argued in the statement, in which he said that the decision not to penalize the crown prince was a matter of putting "America First!"
He continued: "That being said, we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi. In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia."
Khashoggi, a columnist for the Washington Post who had written critically about the Saudi royal family, was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last month. After initially denying having anything to do with his disappearance, Saudi Arabia then said the death was an accident before finally conceding that the murder was premeditated, though prosecutors did not implicate the crown prince.
The kingdom said it would seek the death penalty against five officials who it said were involved in carrying out the killing, and the U.S. responded by sanctioning 17 high ranking officials — though it stopped short of targeting Mohammed bin Salman.
The Washington Post reported last week that the CIA has concluded with “high confidence” that the crown prince was directly involved in the plot, but Trump on Tuesday called Saudi Arabia a “great ally” and said that he was standing with the kingdom.
The statement drew split reactions from congressional Republicans, and even some of the president’s biggest allies hit Trump for siding with the Saudi kingdom over the death of a U.S. resident.
The Trump administration views Saudi Arabia as one of its strongest allies in the Middle East, especially depending on the kingdom as a bulwark against Iran in the region. Trump has said that he doesn’t want to alienate Saudi Arabia, as it could result in the country pulling out of a multibillion-dollar arms deal that could put American jobs at risk.
The White House has also sought to prop up Saudi oil exports in an effort to siphon sales away from Iran.