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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman with Trump in the Oval Office. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

A big reason for President Trump's accommodating stance toward Saudi rulers in the apparent killing of Jamal Khashoggi is rooted in a simple dynamic: Trump needs them.

The big picture: Rice University energy scholar Jim Krane has a helpful Forbes commentary on the "crude realpolitik" behind Trump's openness to the kingdom's denials of responsibility. It stems from the president's need for more Saudi barrels on the market to offset the effects of his Iran sanctions.

  • "[T]he decision to soft-pedal the Saudis plays well with the Trump administration’s worldview, where international norms mean little; even less when cheap Election Day gasoline is on the line," writes Krane.

Threat level: In a note this morning, a Verisk Maplecroft analyst looks more broadly at the Saudi posture, including their implicit threat a few days ago to wield oil as a weapon in response to potential punishment over Khashoggi.

  • "[T]he thinly veiled threat to drive up oil prices if the U.S., UK or France impose sanctions has raised the threshold for anyone considering punitive measures against Saudi Arabia," writes Torbjorn Soltvedt.
  • While oil production cuts are unlikely and would be "far up the escalation ladder," Soltvedt notes that in the event of a diplomatic crisis, the Saudis could take less dramatic steps like canceling arms deals or reducing intelligence sharing.

The bottom line: The Saudis' defiant responses have raised the stakes of punitive action over Khashoggi, and Trump's posture thus far suggests it's working. "By affirming King Salman’s denial of any knowledge of the matter an immediate escalation has been avoided," Soltvedt writes.

P.S.: One frame for looking at who's bailing on the Saudi's upcoming Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference — dubbed "Davos in the desert" — is to see how much risk is involved in the decision.

  • Your Generate host wonders whether as many big banks would have bailed if Saudi Aramco's plans for a massive IPO weren't shelved for a couple years at least.
  • One company that's not saying anything is Lucid Motors, the electric vehicles startup whose CTO is on the list of attendees. Lucid last month announced over $1 billion in funding from the Saudi sovereign wealth fund that's co-hosting next week's FII. Lucid has declined repeated requests for comment from Axios.
  • Go deeper: We've got a running list of withdrawals

Go deeper

Scoop: Gina Haspel almost resigned over plan to install Kash Patel as CIA deputy

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

CIA Director Gina Haspel almost resigned in early December after President Trump cooked up a hasty plan to install loyalist Kash Patel, a former aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), as her deputy, according to three senior administration officials with direct knowledge of the matter.

Why it matters: The revelations stunned national security officials and almost blew up the leadership of the world's most powerful spy agency.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus deaths reach 4,000 per day as hospitals remain in crisis mode — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Biden says, "We will manage the hell out of" vaccine distribution — Biden taps ex-FDA chief to lead Operation Warp Speed amid rollout of COVID plan — Widow of GOP congressman-elect who died of COVID-19 will run to fill his seat.
  3. Vaccine: Battling Black mistrust of the vaccines"Pharmacy deserts" could become vaccine deserts — Instacart to give $25 to shoppers who get vaccine.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode againFed chair: No interest rate hike coming any time soon —  Inflation rose more than expected in December.
  5. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.

NRA declares bankruptcy, says it will reincorporate in Texas

Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association (NRA) speaks during CPAC in 2016. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The National Rifle Association said Friday it has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and will seek to reincorporate in Texas, calling New York, where it is currently registered, a "toxic political environment."

The big picture: The move comes just months after New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit to dissolve the NRA, alleging the group committed fraud by diverting roughly $64 million in charitable donations over three years to support reckless spending by its executives.