Following the disappearance and likely assassination of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi, every major Western media organization pulled out of Saudi Arabia’s upcoming Future Investment Initiative, nicknamed “Davos in the Desert.” Every major Western news organization except one, that is: Fox Business Network.
Perhaps it was no coincidence that President Donald Trump chose that network as the latest stop on his “flood the zone” media tour, sitting down with newly installed prime-time host Trish Regan for a conversation in which he continued to cast doubt on the widely accepted conclusion that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had Khashoggi killed for speaking out against his regime.
“It depends whether the King or the Crown Prince knew about it, in my opinion,” Trump said, when Regan asked what action his administration would be taking against Saudi Arabia. “If they knew about it, that would be bad,” he added.
“Saudi Arabia’s our partner, our ally against Iran,” he said. “They’ve been a great ally to me,” he added, despite previous assertions that he has no financial stake with the Saudis. If the U.S. does give up its supposed $110 billion arms deal with the Saudi Kingdom, he asked, “Aren’t we just hurting our own country?”
The interview also contained plenty of flattery from Regan, who highlighted the “enthusiasm” of the crowds at Trump’s recent rallies. She told the president that his “economic accomplishments are significant and there is a lot to be proud of” and dismissed with an eye roll the suggestion from “critics on the left” that the good news is “just a result of President Obama’s policies finally taking effect.”
“He didn’t even help,” Trump said of Obama. “When I hear that and when professionals hear that, they laugh. Even professionals from the other side.”
The host’s only response was, “Sure.”
Regan did ask Trump how he will “overcome” the Republican Party’s terrible approval ratings among female voters but failed to correct him when he bragged about how well he did with women in the 2016 election. The president frequently conflates the percentage of women who voted for him (41 percent) with the percentage of white women who voted for him (52 percent).
“The men stay with me, I don’t know why,” Trump said, making the host giggle.
At another point, Trump dismissed Michael Avenatti—whom he once again referred to as Michael “Aviante”—as not a “serious” opponent for the 2020 election, reminding the host that he “just beat him” in a defamation lawsuit. Asked if he really plans to make Avenatti and Stormy Daniels pay his legal fees as a judge ordered, Trump replied, “Are you serious? Of course,” adding, “They’ll pay a lot.”
Towards the end of the interview, Trump was back to playing his greatest hits of “no collusion!” and “witch hunt” in reference to the Russia investigation. The president pointedly would not say whether he would keep Attorney General Jeff Sessions around after the midterms. “I'm not going to tell you that, we’ll see what happens. But I think it was a disgrace,” he said of Sessions’ recusal.
In one of her more critical moments, Regan told Trump, “I wondered why you weren’t tougher on Putin,” referring to the Helsinki summit back in July.
Trump said it would have been “easier” for him to be tough on Putin, asking, “They want me to go up and have a boxing match with him on stage?” He admitted he was “nice” to Putin, but insisted everyone thought the performance was great before he got on the plane home and started hearing the “fake news” report that he wasn’t tough enough.
In fact, the terrible reviews for Trump’s performance on that stage in Helsinki were swift and brutal, from all sides of the political media spectrum. In addition to Regan, who called it “horrible,” several other typically fawning Fox News personalities pilloried the press conference as a “disgusting” display.
“I think they are laughing at us,” Trump said of Russia. “This stupid investigation hurts us from having a great relationship.” He repeatedly disputed the suggestion that Russia has tried to “sow chaos” in America and seemed bemused at that phrase, which he said came from “Old English.” As for his closed-door meeting with Vladimir Putin, Trump said he told him “no more meddling,” undercutting his own point in his next breath by adding, “if you did meddle.”
Just as the Saudi government has assured the Trump administration that they did not have Khashoggi killed, the president said Putin told him Russia did not meddle in the 2016 election. In both cases, he took their word for it. “The last thing that Putin wants now is Trump,” the president added, baselessly. “He’d much rather have Clinton.”