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Ex-CIA Director Brennan: 'Outrageous' for Trump to discuss inviting Saudi crown prince to D.C.

Michael Isikoff
·Chief Investigative Correspondent
·4-min read

WASHINGTON — Former CIA Director John Brennan said it is “outrageous” for President Trump to talk about inviting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Washington when he should be treating the Saudi leader as a “pariah” for the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

Brennan’s comments, made during an interview on the Yahoo News “Skullduggery” podcast, came shortly after Trump on Friday announced plans to hold a “big beautiful party” after the election that would include Saudi King Salman and his son, the crown prince, known as MBS, to sign peace deals with Israel.

Former CIA Director John Brennan testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, May 23, 2017, before the House Intelligence Committee Russia Investigation Task Force. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Former CIA Director John Brennan testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington in 2017. (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Trump indicated that he expects the Saudis to join the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan in signing such agreements — a historic event if it actually happens, though the Saudi leaders have yet to publicly confirm they are prepared to do so.

But Brennan, a vociferous critic of the president, said that Trump’s remarks show once again that he has no intention of holding the Saudis, and the crown prince, accountable for the brutal murder of Khashoggi, a U.S. resident, during his October 2018 visit to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain documents that would allow him to marry his Turkish fiancée.

“There are very demonstrable things that they could do,” Brennan said when asked about steps the U.S. government could take in response to Khashoggi’s death. “But Trump has not done any of that. They can make sure that they’re not going to deal with MBS. And really make him a pariah, in many respects, in the bilateral relationship.”

President Donald Trump talks with reporters after leaving a campaign rally at Pensacola International Airport, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, aboard Air Force One. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Trump talks with reporters after leaving a campaign rally at Pensacola International Airport (AP/Evan Vucci)

“That’s outrageous,” Brennan added when asked about Trump’s plans to specifically extend an invitation to MBS to come to Washington. “If he’s going to allow Mohammed bin Salman to come to this country, and be feted and hosted by a president of the United States, after what his own intelligence community, the CIA, has reportedly said about MBS’s responsibility for the murder and dismemberment of a U.S. resident, I just find that very telling [about] Donald Trump, obviously.”

The CIA concluded in November 2018 that the crown prince ordered Khashoggi’s assassination, basing its findings on electronic intercepts and other intelligence that remains classified.

The Saudis have denied that the crown prince played any role, and a Saudi court in September convicted eight men for the murder after a secret trial that spared top aides to MBS who the CIA believes were carrying out the crown prince’s wishes.

For his part, Trump at the time, while calling Khashoggi’s death a “horrible crime,” cast doubt on the CIA’s conclusion, noting that MBS had denied any knowledge of what happened.

“Maybe he did — maybe he didn’t,” Trump said.

FILE - In this Nov. 16, 2018 file photo, members of Arab-Turkish Media Association and friends of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi hold posters showing images of Saudi Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman and of Khashoggi, as they attend funeral prayers in absentia for him following his killing the previous month in the Saudi Arabia consulate, in Istanbul. A New York-based organization dedicated to the safety of journalists says the number killed worldwide in reprisal for their work, including Khashoggi, nearly doubled this year. Khashoggi was one of 53 journalists killed between Jan. 1 and Dec. 14, 2018, the committee said. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel, File)
In this 2018 photo, members of Arab-Turkish Media Association and friends of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi hold posters showing images of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and of Khashoggi, as they attend funeral prayers in absentia for him. (AP/Emrah Gurel)

More recently, journalist Bob Woodward quoted Trump as saying about the crown prince, “I saved his ass.”

In his new book, “Undaunted: My Fight Against American’s Enemies at Home and Abroad,” Brennan — who served two stints in Saudi Arabia during his career with the CIA — writes that he “knew immediately” that MBS was responsible for the murder.

“Based on everything I have learned over the past 40 years about Saudi intelligence and security services and the way the Saudi government operates, I am certain that such an audacious operation occurring inside a diplomatic mission against a high-profile journalist working for a U.S. newspaper would have required the direct authorization of Saudi Arabia’s top leadership,” he wrote.

Brennan added: “The subsequent failure of the Trump administration to hold the Saudi government to account for MBS’s role in the murder of Khashoggi was one of the most egregious examples of unprincipled leadership I have ever witnessed in the U.S. government.”

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