On Sunday night, host John Oliver dedicated the majority of his HBO program Last Week Tonight to the disappearance of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi Arabian citizen and U.S. resident.
Khashoggi, an outspoken critic of the Saudi government—and its de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman—was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on Oct. 2. Turkish police have since alleged that Khashoggi was dismembered by a 15-person “murder team” (bin Salman has denied this) and that they are in possession of audio and video proof of the assassination. Given Khashoggi’s recent history, fingers have been pointed squarely at the Saudis, and at bin Salman.
“He’s long been a significant figure in Saudi Arabia—a thoughtful and by no means radical critic of the Saudi royal family,” said Oliver. “And this is all worrying, because the only reason to kill a journalist in your own consulate with 15 people and a bone saw you flew in that day, is because you wanted to send a message and you were sure you could get away with it. Which raises the question: Why would they be so sure of that?”
The answer is the Saudi royals’ close relationship with President Trump and his administration, argued Oliver. While U.S. presidents have a long history of “pandering” to Saudi Arabia, the comedian claimed that America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia has gotten significantly closer because of Trump and bin Salman—with the latter receiving a series of charming profiles in the West due to his apparent loosening of certain hardline stances, including allowing women to drive.
“The truth is, MBS is far from the political reformer he’s been presented as,” said Oliver, citing bin Salman’s extrajudicial crackdown on “corrupt” Saudi royals and businessmen at the Ritz-Carlton, the arrest of female-rights activists, as well the Saudis’ brutal air campaign in Yemen, an ongoing war that’s claimed the lives of more than 1,200 children.
Of course, Trump has been very accommodating to bin Salman and the Saudi royal family, not only making Saudi Arabia the first foreign country he visited as president but dancing around with a sword there and caressing a glowing orb.
“It really shouldn’t be that surprising to anybody that Trump has so enthusiastically embraced the Saudi royal family. They have the two qualities he admires most in the world: having a lot of money, and giving it to him,” explained Oliver, before cutting to a clip of Trump in 2015 on the campaign trail bragging, “Saudi Arabia… I get along great with all of them. They buy apartments from me, they spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.”
Time and again, Trump has sided with bin Salman and the Saudis—including following the aforementioned “corruption” crackdown and their blockade of Qatar—and a big reason, it seems, is the $110 billion arms deal the Trump administration struck with Saudi Arabia (of which $14.5 billion has actually been earned so far).
“As to whether or not we should stop $110 billion from being spent in this country knowing that they have four or five alternatives… that would not be acceptable to me,” Trump remarked.
“He’s openly demonstrated to the entire world—and to Saudi Arabia, specifically—that arms deal [is] much more important than [a] butchered journalist,” said an incensed Oliver.
He added: “Trump’s intense bromance with MBS is bad news, because when you set no boundaries on an oppressive regime, they’re always going to ask themselves, ‘How much can we get away with here?’ and as we saw this week, the answer to that may well be: pretty much anything.”