Sciutto: Trump is creating a misleading choice

CNN's Jim Sciutto contrasts President Donald Trump's defense of Saudi Arabia to former Presidents, and how they handled holding allies to account while still maintaining relationships with them.

Posted: Nov 22, 2018 5:58 AM
Updated: Nov 22, 2018 6:08 AM

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker told CNN that top administration officials need to immediately brief lawmakers about the situation in Saudi Arabia, while saying President Donald Trump's handling of the situation "took our nation to a very low level."

The Tennessee Republican, who is retiring at year's end, said in a phone interview that Secretary of Defense James Mattis, CIA Director Gina Haspel and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo need to brief the full Senate as soon as next week about the situation in Yemen and the circumstances behind the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi before senators decide what actions to take against Saudi Arabia.

And Corker also added that Trump's decision to shrug off the Khashoggi killing and side with Saudi Arabia undercut the United States' moral high ground.

"It took our nation to a very low level -- moral standing wise," Corker said of the President's response. "In essence what the President was saying is if you lavish praise on me and spend a lot of money with our country, we will turn our head as it relates to you killing journalists and doing other things."

Corker added: "I think that whole approach, even though no doubt Saudi Arabia is a country we've been an ally with, even though they are a semi-important country in the world ... our moral standing as a nation was challenged. I don't know why he went out of his way to approach it in this manner."

Corker said Trump's comments weren't subtle.

"This was absolutely laying it out there that our value systems were around money and not around some of the things that we value greatly as a nation: human rights and other moral issues as a country."

Corker tweeted Tuesday that Trump's written statement siding with Saudi Arabia amounted to the White House "moonlighting" as the kingdom's public relations firm.

Asked why he tweeted that, Corker said: "When you read the release, the crown prince couldn't have written it any better."

How Congress ultimately decides to respond remains to be seen. Corker and Sen. Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, forced the Trump administration to investigate whether the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, was responsible for the murder, something that could lead to sanctions against him under the federal Magnitsky Act.

But the administration can put off a final decision on that issue until February. And whether Congress can coalesce around a single approach by December 7, the deadline for a must-pass spending bill to keep part of the government open, is highly uncertain.

Corker said the first step is for a briefing from the Trump administration to determine whether "other policy steps" are necessary to take.

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