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President Trump Statement Disputes CIA Assessment On Killing Of Khashoggi


While lawmakers were home basting turkeys, President Trump lambasted the independence of the U.S. judiciary in a tweet. He released a statement disputing the reported CIA assessment that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. Maybe he did, maybe he didn't - exclamation point - said the president.

NPR senior Washington correspondent and editor Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: President Trump criticized a court decision from what he described as an Obama judge. The chief justice, I think it's fair to say, rebuked the president in public. He said there's no such thing as an Obama, Bush or Trump judge, just judges. How significant a step was this by the chief justice?

ELVING: You could call it something of a historic, touchstone moment, Scott. The spectacle of a solid conservative, like John Roberts, feeling compelled to assert the basic constitutional role of the judiciary and, as you say, to rebuke the president in this fashion. And then to have the president go on Twitter to correct the chief justice, saying, in effect, Trump judges are good, some of the others are not - that is another touchstone for the era we are in.

SIMON: Of course, the statement from President Trump, with eight exclamation points, that questions the reported assessment of the CIA that Saudi Arabia's crown prince essentially ordered a hit on Jamal Khashoggi and said Saudi Arabia is creating billions of dollars and thousands of jobs in the U.S. - he doesn't want to jeopardize that.

ELVING: And you have to say, the president is willing to do all this, say all this quite openly. He denies the statement made by the CIA - says it was ambivalent, when it wasn't. And he denies the consensus of world opinion as well. And he shrugs off all of that and sides with the Saudi leaders in defiance of all reason and evidence.

SIMON: Ron, I feel the need to state this strongly, particularly in Thanksgiving week, when we celebrate the gift of America. Is the president putting what he perceives as U.S. financial interests above human rights and democracy?

ELVING: Yes. And that is another moment to note for history - a watershed moment in the U.S. role in the world, ending any pretense of the U.S. as a leader in the global struggle for human rights. And I need not tell you, Scott, that has been a longtime role for the United States, a constant through two world wars and the Cold War and the war on terror. The advancement of democratic aspirations with an agenda of human rights - that is what is at stake.

SIMON: Migrants have begun reaching the border this week. The White House approved use of force in some law enforcement roles for U.S. military at the border. Does the U.S. government really want that kind of confrontation before the world?

ELVING: The military clearly does not. One wonders whether the Border Patrol and the rest of ICE wants it either. But the president sees having a confrontation on the border as the next best thing to having a wall there. So he sees benefits in keeping this particular cauldron boiling at this particular point in time.

SIMON: And the wall. The president's threatening to shut down government over funding for the wall. The government runs out of money on December 7.

ELVING: Two weeks. Two weeks out, and yet, no talk of a deal. The president will still have control of the House of Representatives in this lame-duck session in the next few weeks. That's about to begin. He will not have that in January. So this is his last best chance to force this issue, even if that means shutting down parts of the government, including Homeland Security and Transportation. Strong possibility we will have a brutal four or five weeks ahead.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much for being with us.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for NPR.org.