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Bolton says Trump defended MBS after Khashoggi murder to distract from Ivanka's emails

Former national security adviser says Trump released bizarre statement in 2018 to 'divert' attention from his daughter's email scandal
Protest sign reading 'Khashoggi way' is seen across street from White House in 2018 (AFP/file photo)
By MEE staff in Washington

Former US national security adviser John Bolton wrote that President Donald Trump's 2018 statement defending Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) after a journalist was murdered in a Saudi consulate was aimed at diverting attention from his daughter's personal email scandal.

According to excerpts from his memoir, The Room Where It Happened, Bolton said that Trump wrote and read aloud a statement to news media defending MBS after the murder of Middle East Eye columnist Jamal Khashoggi to distract attention from the fact that his daughter Ivanka had sent hundreds of personal emails to White House aides and Cabinet officials in violation of federal records rules. 

"This will divert from Ivanka," Trump said at the time, according to an excerpt from the book published by The Washington Post. "If I read the statement in person, that will take over the Ivanka thing."

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The Trump administration had a particular interest in directing public attention away from the email scandal, since one of Trump's main attacks against his election rival Hillary Clinton in 2016 was her use of a private email server while working for the Obama administration. 

Bolton said that Trump chose to read a controversial statement underlining his support for Saudi Arabia as a means of drawing attention from his daughter's emails, despite the fact that his statement disputed the CIA's findings that MBS had ordered Khashoggi's killing.

"It could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event - maybe he did and maybe he didn't!" Trump's statement read. "That being said, we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi. In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia."

After several US intelligence agencies concluded that MBS had ordered the killing, a UN forensic report said its investigation had also found "credible evidence" that the crown prince and other senior officials were responsible for the murder. The UN then called for MBS to be investigated. 

Despite the numerous reports, Trump never revised his statements in support of MBS, nor did he move to meaningfully investigate the Saudi government's involvement in Khashoggi's murder. 

Ivanka's emails

Regarding Ivanka Trump's email scandal, White House ethics officials discovered that the president's daughter had used her private email for official business throughout "much of 2017". 

Despite a heavy-handed campaign launched by her father against Clinton for similar violations, Ivanka claimed she was not familiar with the details of the federal records rules over her own use of private emails for official business.

The watchdog group American Oversight discovered that Ivanka had been conducting official White House business weeks before she was even officially employed by the federal government in 2017. 

Former White House ethics chief Walter Shaub, who resigned about six months into Trump's first term, tweeted several of the emails uncovered by the watchdog, expressing surprise and concern. 

"Well now, this is disturbing. Ivanka Trump didn't become a government employee until March 29, 2017. This email is dated four weeks earlier than that. Why is she appearing to conduct government business in this email she sent while still a private citizen?" he tweeted, attaching an email Ivanka had sent to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

"A MONTH before Ivanka Trump became a government official, she refers to a WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL as her own 'chief of staff.' Wow! This is really crazy stuff," he said about another email.

'A sick puppy'

Despite the book's wide distribution to newsrooms across the country, the Justice Department on Wednesday asked a federal court to issue an emergency order to block its release, alleging that it contains classified information. 

Trump has also accused Bolton of lying throughout, calling him "a sick puppy" on Twitter and claiming his memoir is "a compilation of lies and made up stories, all intended to make me look bad". 

Various other damning reports have been released based on excerpts from Bolton's tell-all, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu allegedly expressing doubts over the ability of Ivanka's husband, presidential adviser Jared Kushner, to lead the development of the White House's Middle East plan. 

CNN reported on Thursday that in the book, Bolton claims Netanyahu "was dubious about assigning the task of bringing an end to the Israel-Palestinian conflict to Kushner, whose family Netanyahu had known for many years.

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"[Netanyahu] was enough of a politician not to oppose the idea publicly, but like much of the world, he wondered why Kushner thought he would succeed where the likes of [Henry] Kissinger had failed," Bolton wrote.

The former national security adviser has also claimed that Trump agreed to intervene in a federal investigation into Turkish state-owned Halkbank at the request of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Bolton said that in 2018, Erdogan sent Trump a memo insisting that Turkey's Halkbank was innocent of charges against it.

"Trump then told Erdogan he would take care of things, explaining that the [New York] southern district prosecutors were not his people but were Obama people, a problem that would be fixed when they were replaced by his people."

Bolton's book is set to be released next Tuesday. While the Trump administration is seeking judicial intervention, the book has been so widely distributed that a federal judge on Friday expressed doubt that he could stop the upcoming publication, CNN reported

"The horse, as we used to say in Texas, seems to be out of the barn," Judge Royce Lamberth of the DC District Court, said during the hearing on Friday, which is ongoing. "It certainly looks difficult to me about what I can do about those books all over the country."

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