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

President Trump would not answer a question from NBC's Chuck Todd on whether he will allow the FBI to investigate the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which a UN investigator recommended in a report released last week. He instead cited the billions of dollars Saudi Arabia pays the U.S. in the form of weapons sales.

The big picture: Trump's response is in line with what he has said about Khashoggi's assassination since his official statement in November, in which he claimed the world is "a very dangerous place," blamed Iran for destabilizing the Middle East, and stated that the U.S. will stand by Saudi Arabia regardless of whether Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the operation.

  • In an interview with "Axios on HBO," White House senior adviser Jared Kushner was similarly noncommittal about assigning blame for Khashoggi's death and said that he is waiting for the results of a U.S. investigation.
The exchange:

Trump: "Saudi Arabia has to protect themselves, Chuck. But it's, it’s a million jobs and probably more. They buy massive amounts, $150 billion worth of military equipment that, by the way, we use. We use that military equipment. And unlike other countries that don't have money and we have to subsidize everything. So Saudi Arabia is a big buyer of America product. That means something to me. It's a big producer of jobs."

Todd: "It makes you overlook some of their bad behavior?"

Trump: "No. I don't like anybody's bad behavior."

Todd: "The United Nations said they'd like the United States to order the FBI to investigate Jamal Khashoggi's death and possibly MBS’ involvement in it. Will you allow the FBI to do that?"

Trump: "I think it's been heavily investigated."

Todd: "By who?"

Trump: "By everybody. I mean —"

Todd: "By the FBI?"

Trump: 'I’ve seen so many different reports."

Todd: "What about the FBI?"

Trump: "Here's where I am, you ready?"

Todd: "Uh-huh."

Trump: "Iran's killed many, many people a day. Other countries in the Middle East, this is a hostile place. This is a vicious, hostile place. If you're going to look at Saudi Arabia, look at Iran, look at other countries, I won't mention names, and take a look at what's happening. And then you go outside of the Middle East, and you take a look at what's happening with countries. Okay? And I only say they spend $400 to $450 billion over a period of time — all money, all jobs, buying equipment —"

Todd: "That's the price. As long as they keep buying —"

Trump: "No, no."

Todd: "— you'll overlook some of this behavior."

Trump: "But I'm not like a fool that says, "We don't want to do business with them." And by the way, if they don't do business with us, you know what they do? They'll do business with the Russians or with the Chinese."

Go deeper

Democrats' hypocrisy moment

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: Ray Tamarra/Getty Images

Gov. Andrew Cuomo should be facing explicit calls to resign from President Biden on down, if you apply the standard that Democrats set for similar allegations against Republicans. And it's not a close call.

Why it matters: The #MeToo moment saw men in power run out of town for exploiting young women. Democrats led the charge. So the silence of so many of them seems more strange — and unacceptable by their own standards — by the hour.

Police officers' immunity from lawsuits is getting a fresh look

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Nearly a year after the death of George Floyd, advocates of changes in police practices are launching new moves to limit or eliminate legal liability protections for officers accused of excessive force.

Why it matters: Revising or eliminating qualified immunity — the shield police officers have now — could force officers accused of excessive force to personally face civil penalties in addition to their departments. But such a change could intensify a nationwide police officer shortage, critics say. 

The U.S. coronavirus vaccines aren't all the same

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The U.S. now has three COVID-19 vaccines, and public health officials are quick — and careful — to say there’s no bad option. But their effectiveness, manufacturing and distribution vary.

Why it matters: Any of the authorized vaccines are much better than no vaccine, especially for people at high risk of severe coronavirus infections. But their differences may fuel perceptions of inequity, and raise legitimate questions about the best way to use each one.