Tom Barrack, a wealthy real estate investor and head of Donald Trump’s 2017 inaugural committee, thinks it’s a “mistake” to criticize Saudi Arabia over the murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s embassy in Turkey.
Barrack was being questioned about Saudi Arabia’s reputation during a panel at the Milken Institute MENA Summit in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, when he joked to a CNN reporter that he would answer questions “as long as you don’t make me a guest at the Ritz,” apparently referring to the hotel in Riyadh that once served as a jail for the powerful Saudis imprisoned by the regime of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in what it called anti-corruption campaign.
Barrack, 71, then added, according to the Gulf News: “Whatever happened in Saudi Arabia, the atrocities in America are equal, or worse. The atrocities in any country are dictated by the rule of law. So for us to dictate what we think is the moral code there, when we have a young man and regime that is trying to push themselves into 2030, I think is a mistake.”
It’s unclear what American atrocities he was referring to. Khashoggi, a vocal critic of the Saudi regime and a Washington Post columnist, meanwhile, was murdered in Istanbul Oct. 2 on the crown prince’s orders, according to U.S. intelligence officials and lawmakers who were briefed on the killing. Last week, the Trump administration declined lawmakers’ demands to investigate who was responsible for Khashoggi’s murder.
Barrack characterized the kingdom — and the Middle East as a whole — as misunderstood and unfairly maligned by the West.
“So, the West is confused. It doesn’t understand the rule of law in the kingdom, it doesn’t understand what succession in the kingdom is, it doesn’t understand how there can be a dilemma with a population that has 60 percent of people under the age of 20,” Barrack said, according to Gulf News.
On Wednesday afternoon, Barrack issued an apology for his comments, saying in a statement emailed to VICE News: “The killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was atrocious and is inexcusable. I apologize for not making this clear in my comments earlier this week." He posted a longer apology online.
Barrack has long been a friend to Trump — they’ve known each other since the 1980s — and advocated for the administration’s cozy relationship with the Saudis, according to the New York Times. Separately, the inaugural committee he chaired is being investigated by federal officials, and was subpoenaed by the Justice Department last week for documents on its funding. Barrack’s mid-2016 merger of his signature Colony Capital with real estate another firm failed miserably and has severely dented Barrack’s net worth, according to Forbes.
Cover: Inaugural Committee chairman Tom Barrack speaks at at a pre-Inaugural "Make America Great Again! Welcome Celebration" at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)