As senators emerged from a closed CIA briefing on Tuesday blaming Saudi Arabia’s crown prince for the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, Utah Congressman Chris Stewart downplayed the Saudi journalist’s murder.
“Journalists disappear all over the country,” Stewart said on CNN Tuesday. “Twenty journalists have been killed in Mexico. You don’t think it happened in Turkey and China? Of course it does, and yet, we have to have a relationship with these ... countries.”
Wow -- @RepChrisStewart downplays Saudi Arabia's responsibility for murdering the dissident journalist and Virginia resident Khashoggi: "Journalists disappear all over the country. 20 have been killed in Mexico. You don't think it happens in Turkey and China? Of course it does." pic.twitter.com/L5cJgYQwmK
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) December 4, 2018
Stewart was defending President Donald Trump’s tepid response to Khashoggi’s death. In a statement last month, Trump called the murder “terrible” but said Saudi Arabia is “a great ally.”
Stewart was re-elected to a fourth term last month and has generally been supportive of the president. His comments came after CIA Director Gina Haspel gave a classified briefing to senators about the murder. Following the meeting, several senators said they were convinced Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman was behind Khashoggi’s death.
"I have zero question in my mind that the crown prince ordered the killing, monitored the killing, knew exactly what was happening," said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. "If he was in front of a jury, he would be convicted in 30 minutes.”
The liberal watchdog group Alliance for a Better Utah called Stewart’s comments “another instance of Stewart attempting to act as an apologist for Donald Trump.”
“It doesn’t matter if journalists have been killed in other countries. Journalists should not be assassinated. Period,” said Chase Thomas, the group’s executive director.
Following online backlash to his comments, Stewart released an additional statement and said the murder of any journalist cannot be brushed aside.
“I have always said that those responsible for the murder of Mr. Khashoggi should be held responsible. As the leader of the free world, we have to accomplish two goals: defend human rights while also attempting to maintain important relationships with key allies that we hope will help us bring stability to critical parts of the world. We should always strive to do both,” he said.