Some conservatives have been peddling smears against missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in an effort to cushion President Donald Trump from blowback over his handling of the situation with Saudi Arabia, The Washington Post reported Thursday.
Efforts to raise questions about Khashoggi have made their way to Capitol Hill, where a group of House Republicans have been circulating articles from conservative outlets that tie the missing journalist to the Muslim Brotherhood and Osama bin Laden, the Post reported.
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Among those circulating such claims is Donald Trump Jr., who last week retweeted an unsubstantiated claim insinuating Khashoggi is a terrorist sympathizer.
The series of tweets that Trump Jr. retweeted included a post with an image showing Khashoggi, a prominent journalist in the Middle East, appearing beside individuals identified as members of the Islamist group and holding a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. A separate photograph in the article shows Osama bin Laden and some of his associates. Bin Laden co-founded al Qaeda in the late 1980s.
Khashoggi covered al Qaeda as a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan and Sudan and was well-known for his several interviews with bin Laden. He distanced himself from bin Laden after the September 11 terrorist attacks. At the time of the news article posted, the United States was arming and funding the mujahedeen in the Soviet-Afghan War.
Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, disappeared more than two weeks ago after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, to obtain marriage papers. He never re-emerged from the consulate.
This week, CNN reported that Turkish officials suspected within hours of Khashoggi's disappearance that he had likely been killed.
Trump is facing mounting pressure to respond to Saudi Arabia, and on Thursday said for the first time that he believed it was likely Khashoggi was dead.
"It certainly looks that way to me, it's very sad," Trump said.
The US' relationship with Saudi Arabia is pivotal to the United States' Middle East policy on peace in the region, the effort to fight ISIS in Syria and elsewhere, and US foreign policy countering Iran.
In addition, both Trump and his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, maintain close ties to the crown prince, and Trump also has long had business ties to Saudi Arabia, where he made his first foreign trip as President.