Sen. Rand PaulPresident TrumpDonald John TrumpPaul Ryan defends Navy admiral after Trump’s criticism Trump discussing visit overseas to troops following criticism: report Retired Army General: Trump is ‘acting like an 8th grader’ in attacking ex-Navy SEAL who led bin Laden operation MORE ‘s statement siding with Saudi leaders over who’s responsible for the death of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi, characterizing the president’s remarks as “Saudi Arabia First.”Randal (Rand) Howard PaulClapper: Killing of Saudi journalist displays that Trump will ‘accept the words of autocrats’ Trump’s relationship with Saudi crown prince under pressure Rand Paul: ‘Evidence is overwhelming’ that Saudi crown prince was involved in Khashoggi murder MORE (R-Ky.) on Tuesday criticized
Paul, who has otherwise been closely aligned with Trump on foreign affairs this year, disputed the president’s claim that he was pushing an “America First” policy since he wasn’t punishing Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for Khashoggi’s death at the hands of a Saudi security team last month.
“The President indicates that Saudi Arabia is the lesser two evils compared to Iran and so the U.S. won’t punish Saudi Arabia for the brutal killing and dismemberment of a dissident journalist in their consulate. I disagree,” Paul wrote on Twitter.
“I’m pretty sure this statement is Saudi Arabia First, not America First. I’m also pretty sure John Bolton wrote it,” Paul added, referring to Trump’s national security adviser.
Paul, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is pushing bipartisan legislation that would block an arms sale to Saudi Arabia that Trump has valued at $110 billion.
The Kentucky Republican has emerged as one of Saudi Arabia’s most outspoken critics within the Senate Republican conference. He has criticized the kingdom for promoting hate through the funding of radical madrassas around the world.
“We should, at the very least, NOT reward Saudi Arabia with our sophisticated armaments that they in turn use to bomb civilians,” Paul tweeted on Tuesday. “I will continue to press for legislation to stop the Saudi arms sales and the war in Yemen.”
Saudi Arabia has bombed Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen with U.S. munitions that on occasion have killed civilians, including more than 50 people at a market in Saada in August.
Trump defended Saudi Arabia as an important ally in a statement Tuesday.
He noted that after he visited the kingdom last year, the royal family agreed to spend and invest $450 billion in the United States and purchase military equipment from major U.S. defense contractors such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon.
Trump’s statement also questioned whether the crown prince was involved in Khashoggi’s murder at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul last month.
The CIA reportedly concluded, based on intercepted phone calls, that the crown prince ordered the execution.
Trump on Tuesday said U.S. intelligence agencies “continue to assess all information” and that “it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event.”
But the president also raised doubts that was the case.
“Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” Trump said in his statement.