National News

Rebuffing CIA, Trump Says It Only Has ‘Feelings’ About Khashoggi Killing

Posted November 22, 2018 5:53 p.m. EST

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — President Donald Trump on Thursday rebuffed the CIA over its conclusion that the Saudi crown prince was responsible for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, saying the agency merely had “feelings” on the matter, and he threatened to close the entire southern border if a caravan that is so far waiting patiently on the Mexican side grows “uncontrollable.”

Trump made the remarks as he fielded questions from reporters at his Florida estate. The exchange was a notable deviation on a Thanksgiving that was otherwise almost an exact replica of how the president, a known creature of habit, spent the holiday last year.

There were the early morning tweets, this year attacking perceived adversaries. There was the address to U.S. troops stationed around the world, delivered from an opulent room at the estate, Mar-a-Lago, which he has deemed “the southern White House.” There was the visit to a Coast Guard station, where he raved about the Guard’s rising “brand.” And there was his expression of thanks for his family and for his “having made a tremendous difference in this country.”

Trump’s dispute with his own intelligence agencies over the killing of Khashoggi, an opinion columnist for The Washington Post, trailed him into the holiday weekend. The president doubled down on his insistence that an alliance with Saudi Arabia, sweetened by low oil prices and billions in investment, had more value than repercussions for any culpability in the killing of Khashoggi.

“Do people really want me to give up hundreds of thousands of jobs?” Trump said of the alliance with the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s day-to-day ruler. “And frankly, if we went by this standard, we wouldn’t be able to have anybody as an ally,” he added.

The CIA has concluded that the crown prince ordered Khashoggi’s killing, U.S. officials have said. But Trump insisted that Prince Mohammed “hates it more than I do” that the assassination took place, and disputed that the CIA had made a conclusion that the prince was to blame, saying the agency’s leaders “have feelings, certain ways.”

Pressed on who should be held to account for the killing, the president said that “maybe the world should be held accountable, because the world is a vicious place.”

Trump also threatened to close the southern border if he decided that officials in Mexico had lost control of security there, again wielding the presence of the migrant caravan in Tijuana as fodder for his call for an immigration crackdown, including a possible government shutdown if Congress does not fund his border wall. The migrants are waiting there to make asylum claims.

“When they lose control of the border on the Mexico side,” he said, “we’ll just close the border.”

He renewed his threat to veto any budget legislation in December that does not include funding for the wall, a move that would shut down parts of the government, including the Department of Homeland Security.

When Trump spoke via teleconference to the troops stationed abroad, with servers quietly setting up tables nearby, presumably for the Thanksgiving feast to come, he assured them that under his leadership, the country was prospering in their absence. He indulged in a series of riffs about their service, immigration and, in one instance, the merits of an electromagnetic catapult system.

“Steam is very reliable and the electromagnetic, unfortunately, you have to be Albert Einstein to really work it properly,” Trump said to one naval officer. (“You have to be Albert Einstein to run the nuclear power plants we have here as well,” the officer said, “but we’re doing that very well.”)

“How are they feeling about trade?” he asked another officer. (“We don’t see any issues in terms of trade right now,” the officer said.)

“It’s a terrible thing when judges take over your protective services,” he informed another commander, referring to a federal judge’s ruling that the administration must resume accepting asylum claims. “When they tell you how to protect the border, it’s a disgrace” (There was no specific response.)

During the teleconference, which included troops stationed in Afghanistan, the president hinted at a coming visit to armed forces abroad. The president, who has faced renewed scrutiny over his complicated relationship with the military, including claims that his movement of troops to the border was a political sham, has not yet visited troops overseas, as his predecessors did.

Trump later stopped to deliver sandwiches at a Coast Guard station in Riviera Beach, Florida — forever the marketer, for the second year in a row he celebrated the flourishing “brand” of the military branch — before an afternoon at his West Palm Beach golf course.

Melania Trump, the first lady, did not join him as she did last year for his visit with the Coast Guard members. But she was expected to join him and other members of the Trump family at Mar-a-Lago for the Thanksgiving dinner.