In a story yesterday afternoon, the Denver Post’s Anna Staver finally got Sen. Cory Gardner on the record regarding the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, in particular attempting to bridge the gap between Gardner’s highly contradictory statements in the space of just over a week about whether Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was responsible for Khashoggi’s murder:
“This is a prime example of a human rights violation,” Gardner said.
Gardner’s critics in the Colorado Democratic Party, however, say that’s a reversal from what he told KDMT radio host Jimmy Sengenberger on Nov. 29.
“Well, I would be careful of what the CIA is being accused of saying,” Gardner told Sengenberger then. “And I think that was clear in a briefing yesterday. I can’t get into the details of it, but I would just be very careful about what the CIA does and doesn’t believe.”
Gardner has never been briefed by the CIA about Khashoggi’s murder, and he told The Denver Post that’s what he tried to say when he talked with Sengenberger. There’s no text message, email or “smoking gun” that directly links the prince to the crime, but Gardner said all the evidence he’s seen points to Mohammed bin Salman.
As you can see, Gardner claims now under questioning by the Post that he was only trying to say he himself didn’t have the answers, not trying to cast overall doubt on MBS’s culpability the way that President Donald Trump and members of his Cabinet have. In order to understand just how misleading this answer is, it’s necessary to go back to the original transcript of Gardner’s interview with B-list local right-wing AM radio host Jimmy Sengenberger–an interview that is now tripping Gardner up on a much bigger stage than KDMT’s tiny audience.
Again, here’s are Gardner’s verbatim words in the friendly confines of conservative talk radio:
GARDNER: Again, I think Saudi Arabia needs to be held accountable for — and we need to find out and get to the truth of what happened with Jamal Khashoggi. And that is something that I am committed to doing. I’ve signed a global Magnitsky Investigation on Human Rights and making sure that we punish those responsible, including the royal family that may or may not have been involved in this. [Pols emphasis] And of course, yesterday, you saw the public comments made by Secretary of State Mattis and Secretary — [correcting himself] or excuse me, Secretary of State Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mattis — that there is “no smoking gun,” I think were the words that they used at the briefing. [Pols emphasis] And so, what I am committed to, is making sure we get the bottom of that. But what I’m also committed to is making sure that Iran doesn’t gain a further stronghold in the Middle East, that terrorists like ISIS or al Qaeda-Arabian Peninsula don’t gain an advantage in Saudi Arabia [Pols emphasis] and destabilize the region, which would devastate our great ally Israel. And so, I think it’s important that we continue to find out who is responsible, [and] hold them accountable, but also not allow Iran, ISIS, and AQ- AP a foothold in Saudi Arabia to destabilize the region which could then spread out to hurt our allies.
SENGENBERGER: One of my concerns though, about the direction things may have to head — at least, in the minds of some — when it comes to Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the heir to the throne, next in line. And he’s being accused — and reports are suggesting that the CIA thinks that he may be the one who gave the order for Khashoggi’s murder. And that would be something–.
GARDNER: [interrupting] Well, I would be careful of what the CIA is being accused of saying. And I think that was clear in a briefing yesterday. [Pols emphasis] I can’t get into the details of it, but I would just be very careful about what the CIA does and doesn’t believe.
We don’t know how you can read this and not come to the conclusion that Gardner is casting doubt on the Saudi royal family’s involvement in Khashoggi’s murder, in line with what the Trump administration and basically no one else but Saudi Arabia has tried to claim. When Gardner tells the Denver Post that “all evidence” points to the royal family’s guilt, that’s a stark departure from what he said in this interview. And if all Gardner was trying to say was that he had “never been briefed” by the CIA, how could any “briefing” the day before make anything “clear” about their position?
The reason it doesn’t make sense is that it’s bullshit, folks. It’s a textbook example of Cory Gardner’s duplicity coming full circle to bite him in the ass–not the first, but a classic demonstration of something Gardner has relied on for years now with diminishing success.
From there, this story takes a turn for the comedic:
“We can deny their passports, deny their visas. And if you do that here, it triggers a whole other series of countries that deny them as well,” Gardner said. “We freeze their bank assets. You can imagine what it would be if all of a sudden the crown prince can’t get a credit card anywhere because we have taken those actions. [Pols emphasis] We don’t allow them to invest here anymore.”
We’re going to go out on a limb here and suggest that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, net worth somewhere north of eleventy jillion, doesn’t need credit cards. It’s a more important point that none of this will happen if President Trump continues to suck up to the Saudis instead of holding them accountable. But if Gardner was trying to sound “tough” on Saudi Arabia, what he just delivered a punchline for late night TV.
But it really doesn’t matter, because none of this matters!
Gardner, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, went so far as to say he could support sanctions against the country of Saudi Arabia if it failed to punish the prince, [Pols emphasis] but “we have to recognize we can’t do anything that would empower ISIS, Al-Qaeda or Iran.”
With that, Gardner has effectively ruled out anything meaningful in response to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi–or if not ruled it out, at least consented to it. The reason why the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling for a withdrawal of military support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen is simple: that’s what would get the Saudis’ attention. Gardner voted against that resolution, and it’s evident now he simply doesn’t view punishing the Saudis for killing a Washington Post journalist to be as strategically important as Saudi Arabia fighting the enemy of our enemy. Which is exactly where President Trump is getting ready to land too.
It’s the opposite of leadership once again. That means the Denver Post editorial board will love it!
For anyone actually paying attention in Colorado, though, Gardner’s schtick is wearing very thin indeed.