President Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
Credit: The White House/Flickr

Many of Donald Trump’s crimes have been committed in plain sight, like his fraudulent Trump University and his naked efforts to obstruct the Russia investigation. He famously bragged about sexually assaulting women. But until now there hasn’t been a whiff of murder in his past.

Trump couldn’t be more obvious about the fact that he does not want the world to conclude that the Saudi government sent a kill team to Istanbul to torture and chop up an American resident who was simply visiting their consulate to obtain papers he needed to get married.

His killers were waiting when Jamal Khashoggi walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul two weeks ago. They severed his fingers and later beheaded and dismembered him, according to details from audio recordings described by a senior Turkish official on Wednesday.

Mr. Khashoggi was dead within minutes, and within two hours the killers were gone, the recordings suggested…

…A team of 15 Saudi agents, some with ties to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was waiting for Mr. Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate the moment he arrived, at about 1:15 p.m. on Oct. 2.

After he was shown into the office of the Saudi consul, Mohammad al-Otaibi, the agents seized Mr. Khashoggi almost immediately and began to beat and torture him, eventually cutting off his fingers, the senior Turkish official said.

“Do this outside. You will put me in trouble,” Mr. al-Otaibi, the consul, told them, according to the Turkish official and a report in the Turkish newspaper Yeni Safak, both citing audio recordings said to have been obtained by Turkish intelligence.

“If you want to live when you come back to Arabia, shut up,” one of the agents replied, according to both the official and the newspaper.

As they cut off Mr. Khashoggi’s head and dismembered his body, a doctor of forensics who had been brought along for the dissection and disposal had some advice for the others, according to the senior Turkish official.

Listen to music, he told them, as he put on headphones himself. That was what he did to ease the tension when doing such work, the official said, describing the contents of the audio recording.

Since there are audio recordings, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman didn’t have any real alternative but to confess, but instead he came up with the cockamamie alibi that the kill team had gone rogue and was not acting on his orders or with his knowledge. That this was preposterous didn’t prevent him from the argument. Amazingly, President Trump repeated the claim on Monday as if there was some plausibility to it, but the cover story has fallen apart as quickly as it was concocted.

Three of the members of the kill team are members of Mohammed bin Salman’s security detail and another has accompanied the crown prince on trips to Paris, Madrid, Houston, Boston and the United Nations in New York City.

Perhaps the Saudis know they’re in real trouble since they sent the American government $100 million yesterday. But whatever happens for here, we’ve now been exposed to a president who aspires to be an accessory to murder after the fact.

The New York Times editorial board sensibly notes that Trump is obviously lying when he claims that he doesn’t know what happened.

On Monday, when Turkey had already leaked considerable evidence of a hit, Mr. Trump was behaving like a royal apologist. “Just spoke to the King of Saudi Arabia who denies any knowledge of whatever may have happened ‘to our Saudi Arabian citizen,’” he wrote on Twitter. A bit later he told reporters, “The denial was very, very strong,” adding: “It sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers. Who knows?”

Actually, he probably does, if American spy agencies are doing their job.

Despite this, on Tuesday Trump complained that the Saudis were being treated as if they were “guilty until proven innocent.” He knows full-well that they’re guilty and yet on Wednesday he suggested that he had not yet asked Turkey for the audio tapes or received any verification that they exist.

This isn’t fraud or assault. It’s covering up a murder on behalf of the murderer.  That’s ordinarily a very serious crime. It’s probably the most serious crime Trump has ever committed. And he’s doing it in plain sight.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at