SEVERE WX : Dense Fog Advisory View Alerts

The dubious characters who surround Trump

Article Image

Federal prosecutors are investigating claims from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos that executives who run the National Enquirer tried to extort him over the Washington Post's coverage of Jamal Khashoggi's murder. CNN's Alex Marquardt reports.

Posted: Feb 10, 2019 3:50 PM
Updated: Feb 10, 2019 3:50 PM

The Trump administration's clumsy efforts to protect Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, after the death of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi highlight yet another instance of the bizarre nature of the people in the President's orbit.

Trump on Friday refused to meet a deadline set by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to identify Khashoggi's killer as part of the Global Magnitsky Act, which allows the US to sanction foreign governments for human rights abuses.

Trump's refusal comes just one day after The New York Times, citing former and current intelligence officials, reported that bin Salman told a top aide in September 2017 he would use "a bullet" on Khashoggi if he did not return to the kingdom and stop criticizing the Saudi government.

In October 2018, Khashoggi was assassinated by Saudi agents at a Saudi consulate in Turkey before his body was dismembered, according to Saudi prosecutors. Saudi Arabia has acknowledged the killing was premeditated and carried out by members of bin Salman's inner circle but insists the Crown Prince had no role.

The Trump administration has persisted in defending MBS, even as Republican senators have said there is "no question" bin Salman ordered Khashoggi's killing.

Trump grew close to MBS early in his term and visited Riyadh on his first foreign trip. Jared Kushner, the President's son-in-law and adviser, even counseled the Crown Prince on how to weather the storm after Khashoggi's death, according to officials who spoke to The Times. The Trump administration has only acknowledged one conversation between Kushner and MBS after Khashoggi's death, during which Kushner, along with National Security Adviser John Bolton, "asked for more details and for the Saudi government to be transparent in the investigation process," the White House said.

It's not just a personal relationship -- Trump has policy reasons for supporting the Saudi monarch. The administration is aligning with Saudi Arabia on a number of issues, the most significant of which involves pushing against Iran's regional role. It also views Saudi support as crucial for Kushner's expected Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.

Trump is not the first president to overlook the atrocities of a dictator for geopolitical reasons. Franklin Roosevelt famously defended an invitation to a Nicaraguan dictator by saying, "He may be a son of a b----, but he's our son of a b----."  Many presidents have looked away from troubling allies as they brazenly violated America's lofty ideals. But Trump is the first in recent memory to seem at ease with mafia tactics. Murder and dismemberment add a far more gruesome twist, but the mob-like approach is nothing new, given Trump associates who have been making the news with gangster-style threats. Threats and intimidation appear to be a feature of the Trump world, not an exception.

Americans may be used to shocking news by now, but it was still stunning when Jeff Bezos claimed the National Enquirer -- a close ally of Donald Trump -- committed "extortion and blackmail."

Bezos, the world's wealthiest man, owns The Washington Post, where Khashoggi was a columnist. And in his Medium post on Thursday, Bezos suggested this entire scandal kicked off due to his own investigation into how and why the Enquirer published intimate texts he sent to a woman who is not his wife.

Bezos' investigation may have touched on Saudi Arabia, which apparently prompted a reaction from David Pecker, CEO of the Enquirer's parent company, American Media Inc. "Several days ago," Bezos wrote, "an AMI leader advised us that Mr. Pecker is 'apoplectic' about our investigation. For reasons still to be better understood, the Saudi angle seems to hit a particularly sensitive nerve."

A few days later, AMI warned Bezos that it would publish more embarrassing texts and photos if his investigation did not come to a halt. In another email, an AMI lawyer wrote that if Bezos issued a public statement saying he found no reason to believe the Enquirer's coverage "was politically motivated or influenced by political forces," AMI would agree not to publish the damaging material.

AMI issued a statement on Friday saying it "acted lawfully" in its reporting about Bezos' affair. The company also announced it would launch an investigation into the claims.

While Pecker was not the one who sent the emails Bezos shared on Medium, the company has come under fire for questionable practices in the past -- including Pecker's work with ex-Trump fixer Michael Cohen to suppress former Playboy model Karen McDougal's story about Trump during the presidential campaign.

It was foolish of the Enquirer to take on the world's richest man and downright stupid to allegedly blackmail him. The story was shocking but curiously unsurprising. After all, the tactic has a familiar ring. We've heard about mafia techniques by Trump defenders many times.

And mafia lingo seems to roll off the President's tongue. In one instance, he called Cohen a "rat" for agreeing to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. Then, Trump tweeted, "Watch father-in law!" in what sounded like a Cosa Nostra-inspired threat against Cohen's family. Cohen later postponed his congressional testimony due to "ongoing threats" against his family, "from President Trump and (Rudolph) Giuliani," his lawyer said.

During his days in Trump's employ, Cohen too had a gangster's verbal touch defending his boss. "I'm warning you, tread very f---ing lightly," he told a reporter, "because what I'm going to do to you is going to be f---ing disgusting."

Roger Stone is another shady character who has long orbited around Trump. Stone, who has been described as a "quality guy" by the President, has also fired off mob lexicon. "You are a rat. A stoolie ... run your mouth my lawyers are dying to Rip you to shreds," he wrote in one email cited in his indictment. Stone also told an associate to "do a Frank Pentangeli" -- a reference to the Godfather character who recants his testimony against his boss and kills himself.

This solar system of dubious characters circling the President has become another unseemly trait in an administration stained by conflicts of interests and assaults on norms of decency.

That backdrop magnifies the cringe factor in Trump's defense of the Saudis.

We don't know precisely what Bezos found in his investigation and what he meant by the "Saudi angle" that apparently alarmed Pecker. A Saudi envoy said the kingdom was not involved in the dispute between Bezos and AMI. Regardless, AMI's actions echo both the tone and tactics of the underworld feel of the Trump administration. That alone suggests we're nowhere near the end of this story.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 306538

Reported Deaths: 5435
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion41953849
Lake26872453
Allen17621295
Elkhart16905219
St. Joseph16524223
Hamilton12696167
Vanderburgh9552115
Tippecanoe844927
Porter813785
Johnson6231165
Vigo597979
Hendricks5944156
Monroe530349
Clark504077
Madison4858121
Delaware4820103
LaPorte457194
Kosciusko455739
Howard334975
Warrick319572
Floyd311477
Bartholomew308462
Wayne301367
Cass295831
Marshall293744
Grant262949
Noble249846
Hancock246551
Boone240254
Henry240237
Dubois234631
Dearborn215730
Jackson212633
Morgan204443
Gibson181725
Knox181419
Shelby178254
Clinton177821
Lawrence174047
DeKalb172829
Adams166422
Wabash158020
Miami157814
Daviess154643
Fayette147733
Steuben143513
Jasper142111
Harrison141824
LaGrange140129
Montgomery139027
Whitley133412
Ripley128114
Decatur124643
Huntington123510
Putnam123027
Randolph120719
Wells120428
White120321
Clay119822
Posey119616
Jefferson116216
Scott103219
Greene101353
Jay96413
Starke90621
Sullivan88916
Fulton83518
Jennings83214
Spencer8198
Perry81521
Fountain7738
Washington7417
Franklin68626
Carroll67913
Orange66628
Vermillion5993
Owen5987
Parke5606
Newton55312
Tipton55226
Rush5317
Blackford51912
Pike50318
Pulaski37710
Martin3515
Benton3362
Brown3353
Crawford2881
Union2671
Switzerland2555
Warren2382
Ohio2307
Unassigned0266

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 371840

Reported Deaths: 6100
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin50231667
Cuyahoga36047741
Hamilton29931372
Montgomery20065228
Butler14769146
Lucas14317414
Summit13388316
Stark8792197
Warren819175
Mahoning7276299
Lake682666
Lorain643499
Clermont577248
Delaware556436
Licking549276
Fairfield538464
Trumbull5305147
Greene522364
Clark511464
Allen465485
Marion465251
Wood4491107
Medina447756
Miami425867
Pickaway399348
Columbiana347297
Portage344872
Tuscarawas328658
Wayne318793
Richland316638
Mercer289945
Hancock241337
Ross240759
Muskingum240210
Auglaize231031
Putnam224749
Erie224266
Darke223559
Ashtabula223253
Geauga203351
Scioto195915
Union19118
Shelby190615
Lawrence189438
Athens18864
Seneca180018
Belmont164929
Madison158918
Sandusky154229
Preble152621
Huron152318
Defiance139522
Holmes139139
Logan127816
Knox126318
Fulton124525
Washington121927
Crawford121516
Ottawa121130
Clinton106714
Williams10579
Ashland105222
Highland101317
Jefferson10124
Henry100023
Brown9925
Champaign9475
Jackson93112
Hardin91019
Fayette90317
Van Wert8976
Morrow8882
Guernsey83914
Coshocton82613
Perry78712
Adams78313
Pike7451
Gallia73513
Wyandot71216
Paulding64611
Hocking62616
Noble60223
Carroll45710
Meigs39012
Monroe31821
Morgan2575
Vinton2195
Harrison2023
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Overcast
52° wxIcon
Hi: 52° Lo: 45°
Feels Like: 52°
Angola
Overcast
50° wxIcon
Hi: 48° Lo: 42°
Feels Like: 50°
Huntington
Overcast
49° wxIcon
Hi: 54° Lo: 44°
Feels Like: 43°
Decatur
Overcast
51° wxIcon
Hi: 53° Lo: 46°
Feels Like: 51°
Van Wert
Overcast
50° wxIcon
Hi: 53° Lo: 46°
Feels Like: 50°
Cloudy Thanksgiving
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events