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Jared Kushner, President Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law whose portfolio includes the thorny issue of a lasting peace between Israel and Palestine, said that he has advised the Saudi’s to be “fully transparent…[and that] the world is watching” in dealing with the death of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on Oct. 2.
Kushner, who is assigned to deal with the issue of brokering a workable solution between Israel and Palestine, fielded questions from CNN anchor Van Jones at the network’s Citizen by CNN conference Monday.
Jones noted that there is vast incredulity about Saudi Arabia’s version of events in the death of Khashoggi, who was living in Virginia and writing columns for The Washington Post.
“Do you believe the Saudis’ account of what happened?” asked Jones. “There was a fist fight and then the guy died and they forgot to call the ambulance and instead called the bone saw person. Does that strike you as credible?”
Kushner hedged: “I’d say that right now, we’re more in a fact-finding phase…determining which facts are credible and after that, the president and the Secretary of State will make a determination about what is credible.”
But he added, “We have to be able to work with our allies and Saudi Arabia is a very strong ally.”
The country did not suffer consequences after 9/11 despite the fact that a majority of the hijackers — and Osama bin Laden — were Saudi. And it remains to be seen what if anything will happen this time. On Monday, CNN obtained surveillance video recorded by Turkish law enforcement that shows a Saudi agent “body double” walking out of the consulate wearing Khashoggi’s clothes. The attempted ruse appears designed to bolster Saudi’s initial claims that Khashoggi left the building on his own accord. It also points to a planned coverup, despite the glaring inconsistencies, namely that the agent was wearing different shoes.
“The Middle East is a rough place,” Kushner reasoned to Jones, speaking before the video was released. “It’s been a rough place for a very long time.”
Khashoggi’s death has created a foreign policy crisis for the Trump administration, which is relying on Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in its campaign against Iran (and also to buy billions of dollars in arms and weapons). It has also complicated the crown prince’s efforts to court alliances in Silicon Valley and Hollywood. Ari Emanuel’s Endeavor has extricated itself from a $400 million investment from the Saudis. And virtually all of the Western participants have dropped out of the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh, the Saudi capital.
Uber’s chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi was the first to pull out. And on Oct. 15, he was joined by Ford Motor company’s Bill Ford, Blackstone Group’s Stephen A Schwarzman, BlackRock’s Laurence D. Fink and JP Morgan Chase chief Jamie Dimon.
The conference — dubbed “Davos in the Desert” — has also lost virtually all of its U.S. media partners, including CNBC, The New York Times, Bloomberg, The Los Angeles Times, The Financial Times, The Economist, CNN and Fox Business Network.
Jones and Kushner were the first session of the day at CNN’s political forum in New York. And their differences on policy are stark; CNN chief Jeff Zucker introduced the duo as the “political odd couple.” The session was ostensibly billed as a discussion on prison reform, which is among the issues in which Kushner has taken an interest. It is perhaps the one issue the two men can agree on. And Jones asked Kushner if the president actually cares about prison reform, given Trump’s general demeanor toward marginalized groups.
“This is an issue that’s really hit his heart,” Kushner claimed, referring to the president.
Jones did not ask Kushner about the president’s statements about race, which would seem to be a relevant avenue of discussion given the high rates of incarceration of African-American men. And Jones thanked Kushner for participating, given their disagreement on almost every political issue. But he did offer that he cannot wait for the Trump administration to be over.
Oct. 22, 9 a.m. Updated with CNN surveillance video.
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