The mystery surrounding Jamal Khashoggi has turned even more dark. The Saudi journalist vanished Oct. 2 after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Within days, leaks from Turkish officials suggested Khashoggi had been murdered by Saudi agents flown in to take out the writer. The Saudis have denied the accusation, saying Khashoggi left the consulate on his own — but have provided no evidence to back up their claim.

On Wednesday night, my colleagues reported that none other than Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered an operation to lure Khashoggi, a prominent writer and Washington Post contributor, from his de facto exile in Virginia and detain him, according to U.S. intelligence intercepts.

“The intelligence pointing to a plan to detain Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia has fueled speculation by officials and analysts in multiple countries that what transpired at the consulate was a backup plan to capture Khashoggi that may have gone wrong,” wrote Post national security reporter Shane Harris.

On Thursday evening, my colleagues reported that Turkish officials told their U.S. counterparts that they had audio and video evidence apparently confirming their conclusion that Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate

The news has gone off like a bomb in the U.S. capital, where Riyadh has long curried favor through an extensive ecosystem of lobbyists, wonks and politicians. In the space of a week, Khashoggi’s disappearance has stirred the sort of collective ire against Saudi Arabia that years of Saudi-led bombing in Yemen could not.

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) warned that “there would be hell to pay” if the allegations of Saudi malfeasance were confirmed. “I’ve never been more disturbed than I am right now,” said Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “If this man was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, that would cross every line of normality in the international community.”

Analysts bemoaned the White House’s seeming disinterest in the alleged assassination. “It symbolizes the departure of the United States as a restraining force against evil actors in the world,” wrote Robert Kagan in a column for The Post. “Saudi Arabia is a small nation that cannot defend itself without the support of the United States, and therefore no Saudi leader would have made such a brazen move without confidence that Washington, once the leader of the liberal world order, would do nothing.”

Indeed, Trump has done little to suggest that evidence of Saudi misbehavior would compel him to disrupt his close relationship with the kingdom. In multiple interviews since Khashoggi’s disappearance, he has stressed the importance of preserving over $100 billion in arms sales to the Saudis.

“I think that would be hurting us,” Trump told Fox News on Wednesday night. “We have jobs. We have a lot of things happening in this country. … Part of that is what we are doing with our defense systems and everybody is wanting them and frankly, I think that would be a very, very tough pill to swallow for our country.”

The following day, Trump waved away the incident as something that took place in Turkey involving a Saudi citizen, and was therefore not any of Washington’s business — never mind that Khashoggi was a U.S. resident writing for an American newspaper.

“Trump’s stance toward despots and authoritarians has generally been not to judge their conduct and suggest it’s a mere distraction from his dealmaking,” wrote my colleague Aaron Blake. “And that’s also the case with Saudi Arabia, which Trump and his White House have treated warmly as a partner against Iran and on trade.”

The White House’s indifference should not be a surprise. Saudi Arabia was the first country Trump visited as president. He has since touted the kingdom’s lavish spending on U.S. military hardware as well as its close partnership in a new axis to confront Iran.

Trump has also decisively aligned U.S. policy with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which both reviled the 2011 pro-democracy uprisings in the Middle East. Riyadh and Abu Dhabi cheered the 2013 coup against the elected government of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and have provided vast monetary assistance to the brutal regime of his successor, President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi.

At an event in New York last month, Anwar Gargash, the UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs, stressed that the Gulf monarchies have an “arch-conservative” philosophy that prioritizes stability and rejects Islamism. He said he resented “a messianic view in many Western capitals” that imagined liberal democracy flourishing across the region.

Khashoggi, a former Riyadh insider who chose to flee his country in order to express his views, was a staunch critic of the intolerant politics that snuffed out the possibility of more democratic Arab societies.

“The coup in Egypt led to the loss of a precious opportunity for Egypt and the entire Arab world,” he wrote this August. “If the democratic process had continued there, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political practices could have matured and become more inclusive, and the unimaginable peaceful rotation of power could have become a reality and a precedent to be followed.”

Of course, Trump’s predecessors weren’t dogged defenders of Arab democracy, either. “U.S. acquiescence to the death of the Arab Spring stemmed from both the cynical realism of key Obama officials and heavy pressure from the Saudis and the Emiratis, both of whom viewed the regional uprisings as mortal threats to their style of monarchical rule,” wrote Evan Hill for Slate.

“The reactionary kings and princes of the Gulf did all they could to smother Egypt’s democracy movement, funneling billions of dollars to Sissi and his supporters,” Hill continued. “Such was their antipathy to the Arab revolts and the political Islamists they empowered that they viewed even the Obama administration’s tepid openness to the Muslim Brotherhood as a foul conspiracy.”

But if the Obama administration struggled to reckon with political turmoil in the Middle East, Trump has made emphatically clear that he isn’t interested in humoring democratic experiments at all. The disappearance of Khashoggi only reinforces how much he’s willing to ignore to back his strongman friends — especially when it makes him rich.

• Here are more details from my colleagues’ Thursday night report that Turkish officials have told U.S. officials they have audio and video recordings that prove Kashoggi was killed inside the consulate:

“The recordings show that a Saudi security team detained Khashoggi in the consulate after he walked in Oct. 2 to obtain an official document before his upcoming wedding, then killed him and dismembered his body, the officials said.

“The audio recording in particular provides some of the most persuasive and gruesome evidence that the Saudi team is responsible for Khashoggi’s death, the officials said.

“’The voice recording from inside the embassy lays out what happened to Jamal after he entered,’ said one person with knowledge of the recording who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss highly sensitive intelligence.

“’You can hear his voice and the voices of men speaking Arabic,’ this person said. ‘You can hear how he was interrogated, tortured and then murdered.’…

“The existence of such evidence would explain why Turkish officials were quick to accuse Saudi Arabia of killing Khashoggi. But Turkish officials are wary of releasing the recordings, fearing they could divulge how the Turks spy on foreign entities in their country, the officials said.”

Meanwhile, in Istanbul, my colleague Kareem Fahim reported on another new wrinkle in the Khashoggi investigation. Turkish authorities said they had agreed to a request by Saudi Arabia to form a joint committee to probe Khashoggi’s disappearance, even as Turkish officials privately alleged the Saudis had killed him. Fahim writes that the Saudi request to cooperate with Turkey “was a possible sign that the Saudi leadership may be searching for an exit from the crisis as it faces growing international pressure to explain Khashoggi’s fate.”

 Saudi Arabia is not just a political ally for President Trump, as The Post’s David Fahrenthold and Jonathan O’Connell observed: “It has also been a customer.”

They go on: “Trump’s business relationships with the Saudi government — and rich Saudi business executives — go back to at least the 1990s. In Trump’s hard times, a Saudi prince bought a superyacht and hotel from him. The Saudi government paid him $4.5 million for an apartment near the United Nations.

“Business from Saudi-connected customers continued to be important after Trump won the presidency. Saudi lobbyists spent $270,000 last year to reserve rooms at Trump’s hotel in Washington. Just this year, Trump’s hotels in New York and Chicago reported significant upticks in bookings from Saudi visitors…

“‘Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million,’ Trump told a crowd at an Alabama campaign rally in 2015. ‘Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.’…

“In 1991, when Trump was nearly $900 million in debt from failed casino projects, he sold his 281-foot yacht to Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal for $20 million. (The boat had been originally owned by late Saudi billionaire and arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi, a cousin of Jamal Khashoggi.)

“A few years later, the prince bought a stake in Trump’s Plaza Hotel by agreeing to pay off some of Trump’s debts on the property.”

• The winds of geopolitics have a habit of turning quickly. A few months ago, the United States and Turkey were in the thick of a dispute centered on Turkey’s detention of an American pastor. Now, as Ankara grapples with the crisis over Khashoggi, there are signs of an end to the impasse. My colleagues Karen DeYoung and Carol Leonnig report:

“The Trump administration is cautiously optimistic that an American cleric who has been held in Turkey for the past two years on espionage and terrorism-related charges will be released soon after a court hearing Friday, according to U.S. officials and people close to the case.

“In a negotiated deal that includes the lifting of U.S. sanctions — both threatened and implemented — against Turkey, charges against the Rev. Andrew Brunson are to be reduced to allow him to be sentenced to time already served, or to be allowed to serve any remaining sentence in the United States.

“The agreement — part of which was negotiated at last month’s U.N. General Assembly meeting, attended by President Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — will either lead to Brunson’s immediate release Friday, or his freeing within a few days, said officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the still-secret arrangement…

“Congress, where anti-Turkey sentiment over the Brunson case has been high, passed legislation freezing the sale of 100 F-35 aircraft to Turkey and giving Defense Secretary Jim Mattis — who opposed the freeze — until next month to prepare a report on how it would affect U.S. security and the defense industry.

“Possible resolution of the Brunson case also comes as the United States and Turkey have tempered some of their differences over Syria, and have shared their disquiet over last week’s disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, a dissident Saudi journalist, during a visit to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.”


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