Even after the Saudi quasi-confession, Trump defended the crown prince, known as MbS. On Friday, Trump said he found the Saudi fistfight claim credible. By Saturday night, he sounded a bit more skeptical in a Washington Post interview: “Obviously there’s been deception and there’s been lies,” he said, noting that the Saudis’ “stories are all over the place.” The monarchy has pinned blame on underlings of MbS, whom Trump called “a strong person, he has very good control.”
Graham thinks MbS shouldn’t have control any longer. Three days before the Saudis acknowledged the journalist’s death, the senator said the crown prince “has got to go.” On Fox & Friends, the chatty morning show the president’s prone to join by telephone, Graham had argued the royal must be culpable because “nothing happens in Saudi Arabia without MbS knowing it.”
Graham said Sunday morning he could accept the multibillion-dollar arms sales the president has prioritized, but only if the country’s leadership changes. “My beef is not with Saudi Arabia the country,” Graham said. “My beef is with this young leader who’s taken the law into his own hands.”
But how to convince the president to punish the leader who’s won fans in the Trump administration, including son-in-law Jared Kushner? Graham praised the president’s strength in fighting China on trade and bringing North Korea’s dictator to the negotiating table. He endorsed Trump’s announcement that he wants to withdraw from a decades-old arms treaty with Russia, calling it another example of strength in foreign relations. “I hope he’ll come down hard on Saudi Arabia,” Graham said. “…We need a strong leader in this world. We had eight years of weak with Obama. I’m tired of weak. I like strong.”
Then, addressing Trump directly and nodding vigorously, Graham said: “Keep being strong, Mr. President. You will win all these fights if you stay strong.”
By casting the crown prince’s punishment as yet another way for Trump to show his toughness, Graham seemed to be stroking the president’s ego to persuade him. He had lots of bipartisan support on the Sunday shows.
On CNN’s State of the Union, Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska gave a catchphrase that referenced allegations that the 15-member Saudi assassination team that traveled to Istanbul included an autopsy specialist equipped with a dismemberment tool: “You don’t bring a bone saw to a fistfight.”
The Senate’s number-two Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois, said on NBC’s Meet the Press that he believes the crown prince must have ordered Khashoggi’s killing, given that “five of his personal bodyguards are among those currently accused.”