'A despicable, embarrassing failure': Former officials destroy Trump's craven defense of Saudi Arabia over the killing of Jamal Khashoggi

Trump's reaction could inspire more attacks on the free press.

Photo Credit: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead

President Donald Trump is continuing to back the Saudi regime, despite overwhelming evidence that its most powerful leader, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, is directly implicated in the assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

In a farcical statement about the killing — strewn with superfluous exclamation points — the president lashed out at Iran and repeated bogus Saudi talking points about Khashoggi being an "enemy of the state" and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

"Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!" the statement said. On the contrary, reports suggest that the CIA is convinced that the crown prince ordered the killing himself. 

David Laufman, a former top counterintelligence official in the Justice Department, condemned Trump's cowardly statement: "A despicable, embarrassing failure to hold the Saudi government fully accountable for one of the most depraved human rights abuses in modern memory -- and yet another insult to the outstanding work of our intelligence community."

Former FBI agent Josh Campbell argued that, despite Trump's claims to be putting "America first," his actions endanger everyone.

"Condoning the murder of journalists makes the world less safe," he wrote on Twitter. "Sacrificing national values for arms sales makes the world less safe. Empowering despots makes the world less safe. Ignoring intelligence assessments because they are uncomfortable makes the world less safe."

Retiring Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) noted that if, as Trump claims, Saudi Arabia was truly a great ally, they wouldn't "plot the murder of journalists" and "lure their own citizens into a trap, then kill them."

Washington Post Publisher and CEO Fred Ryan also denounced the president's disregard for Khashoggi's death.

"President Trump is correct in saying the world is a very dangerous place. His surrender to this state-ordered murder will only make it more so," he said in a statement.

Don't let big tech control what news you see. Get more stories like this in your inbox, every day.

Cody Fenwick is a reporter and editor. Follow him on Twitter @codytfenwick.