To President Donald Trump, the Saudi Arabian government’s denial that it was involved in the disappearance and potential murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s denial that he committed sexual assault have something in common: Both, he said in an interview with the Associated Press, are a case of “you’re guilty until proven innocent.”
Trump has seemed to give credit to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s denials that he was involved in the disappearance of Khashoggi from the Saudi Consulate two weeks ago, even as evidence mounts that Saudi Arabia killed the writer and dissident. On Tuesday, Trump tweeted that the prince, known as MBS, had “totally denied” any knowledge of what took place at Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Turkey, where Khashoggi was last seen.
And in an interview with the AP on Tuesday, Trump elaborated on his thinking — and likened the situation to that faced by Kavanaugh, whose Supreme Court nomination was dogged by allegations of sexual misconduct and assault:
Well, I think we have to find out what happened first. You know, here we go again with, you know, you’re guilty until proven innocent. I don’t like that. We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh. And he was innocent all the way. So I was unconcerned. So we have to find out what happened and they are doing a very major investigation. So is Turkey. Plus, they’re putting themselves together and doing it. And hopefully they’ll get to an answer as to what happened. But I will say they were very strong in their denial about themselves knowing.
“Guilty until proven innocent” is the same issue Trump lamented at the start of the month while speaking with reporters on the South Lawn of the White House and lamenting the Kavanaugh situation. Palo Alto University professor Christine Blasey Ford accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her while both were in high school — pinning her down on a bed, trying to take off her clothes, and covering her mouth as she screamed. Deborah Ramirez said he drunkenly exposed himself to her and thrust his genitals in her face at a college party. Kavanaugh denied the allegations.
“My whole life, I’ve heard you’re innocent until proven guilty. But now, you’re guilty until proven innocent,” Trump, who called for the Central Park Five, who were falsely accused, to be put to death and on the campaign trail threatened to jail Hillary Clinton, said on October 2. “That is a very, very difficult standard.”
Trump believes denials when it’s good for him
Trump’s comments comparing the Saudi government to Kavanaugh denote a key feature of the way he thinks: Whom he does and doesn’t believe is a matter of convenience, whether it be political, economic, or personal. In a 60 Minutes interview with Lesley Stahl that aired over the weekend, Trump said he wasn’t so sure about climate scientists’ assertions that climate change is created by humans, but he talked about giving North Korean leader Kim Jong Un the benefit of the doubt.
It’s why he ultimately backed Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore and emphasized that Moore “totally denies” the sexual misconduct allegations against him. It’s why he’s been so accepting of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denials that Russia meddled in the 2016 election.
There are plenty of things that make accepting the Saudis’ denials convenient for Trump — the US has a major arms deal with them and depends on them for oil market stability, and Trump seems to like MBS personally and appears to have business ties to the country, despite his denials.
And obviously, getting Kavanaugh confirmed was important to Trump. Kavanaugh was his nominee, and one who believes a sitting president shouldn’t be distracted by civil lawsuits, criminal investigations, or indictments.