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 2:50 PM
Updated: Feb 10, 2019 2:50 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.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 556381

Reported Deaths: 7098
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1158471682
Ramsey47939856
Dakota42586422
Anoka38655415
Washington24993274
Stearns21052219
St. Louis16821298
Scott16013117
Wright14818127
Olmsted1276297
Sherburne1064880
Carver984945
Clay783490
Rice7649101
Blue Earth698640
Kandiyohi628181
Crow Wing618186
Chisago550650
Otter Tail543973
Benton532297
Mower451132
Goodhue444172
Douglas442870
Winona438649
Nobles400648
Morrison396059
McLeod395255
Isanti378259
Itasca373653
Beltrami372957
Polk366067
Steele364014
Becker356048
Lyon348648
Carlton329452
Freeborn328129
Pine312321
Nicollet307542
Brown294739
Mille Lacs282150
Le Sueur270822
Todd268830
Cass250426
Meeker237437
Waseca231421
Martin213429
Wabasha19953
Roseau197818
Renville172543
Hubbard172341
Dodge17193
Redwood166335
Houston162614
Cottonwood157021
Fillmore15179
Pennington151019
Chippewa146537
Wadena144621
Faribault144019
Sibley136410
Kanabec131721
Aitkin128736
Watonwan12569
Rock123019
Jackson117410
Yellow Medicine110819
Pipestone109926
Pope10306
Murray10269
Swift100018
Marshall85617
Stevens82210
Lake78419
Clearwater77814
Koochiching77313
Wilkin77012
Lac qui Parle73622
Big Stone5644
Lincoln5592
Grant5498
Norman5229
Mahnomen5088
Unassigned50378
Kittson46822
Red Lake3877
Traverse3605
Lake of the Woods3073
Cook1460

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 358085

Reported Deaths: 5821
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk56023604
Linn20310330
Scott19111234
Black Hawk15560306
Woodbury14906221
Johnson1405881
Dubuque13162202
Dallas1090196
Pottawattamie10763162
Story1031547
Warren555686
Clinton537790
Cerro Gordo522986
Webster508391
Sioux506673
Marshall477274
Muscatine460796
Des Moines441965
Wapello4254120
Buena Vista421940
Jasper407670
Plymouth397479
Lee368555
Marion354575
Jones293155
Henry286337
Bremer279360
Carroll279351
Crawford261840
Boone258833
Benton250355
Washington249550
Dickinson242343
Mahaska224850
Jackson218242
Kossuth213063
Clay211225
Tama206671
Delaware203039
Winneshiek194433
Page190421
Buchanan188831
Cedar184423
Fayette183041
Wright180435
Hardin179942
Hamilton178149
Harrison176473
Clayton167155
Butler162534
Mills158720
Cherokee157138
Floyd155442
Lyon154841
Madison154119
Poweshiek152733
Allamakee149151
Iowa145524
Hancock143734
Winnebago136131
Grundy135332
Cass134654
Calhoun133211
Jefferson131035
Emmet128740
Shelby128637
Sac127319
Louisa127249
Appanoose126647
Mitchell125341
Union124132
Chickasaw122615
Humboldt118326
Guthrie117929
Franklin112821
Palo Alto111022
Howard102822
Montgomery100637
Unassigned10050
Clarke98323
Keokuk94730
Monroe94128
Ida89733
Adair84532
Pocahontas83721
Monona81230
Davis79924
Greene76710
Osceola75516
Lucas74923
Worth7098
Taylor65312
Fremont6139
Decatur5899
Van Buren55518
Ringgold53623
Wayne52123
Audubon4939
Adams3284
Rochester/St. Mary'S
Cloudy
33° wxIcon
Hi: 41° Lo: 33°
Feels Like: 24°
Mason City
Cloudy
35° wxIcon
Hi: 42° Lo: 31°
Feels Like: 24°
Albert Lea
Cloudy
34° wxIcon
Hi: 41° Lo: 31°
Feels Like: 24°
Austin
Cloudy
36° wxIcon
Hi: 41° Lo: 33°
Feels Like: 27°
Charles City
Cloudy
36° wxIcon
Hi: 43° Lo: 34°
Feels Like: 25°
Tracking an arctic front, cooling us down for the workweek
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Latest Video

Image

Sean's Weather 4/19

Image

Mayo Clinic Doctor creates art for patients

Image

Electric car show

Image

Walk a Block

Image

Cleaning up Chester Woods

Image

Little Thistle collecting donations

Image

Rochester United PKG

Image

Grizzlies PKG

Image

Sara's Saturday Night Forecast

Image

April Tool's Day

Community Events