CNN's Smerconish: What do Saudis have over American presidents?

CNN's Michael Smerconish on Saturday sharply criticized the Trump administration and previous U.S. presidencies for what he called "fealty" to the Saudi government.

Smerconish delivered the commentary on CNN's "Smerconish" after the Saudi government acknowledged on Friday that Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S.-based Washington Post columnist, had died inside its consulate in Istanbul after weeks of claiming to not know his whereabouts

The CNN host noted that America's complicated relationship with Saudi Arabia stretched across presidencies from both parties, while questioning why there seemed to be little daylight between Democrats and Republicans on past praise for the Saudi government.


"What the hell does the Saudi royal family hold over American presidents?" Smerconish asked Saturday. "It's as if we elect an American president, give him the Resolute Desk, and the book of secrets, and in the latter, he learns he must assume fealty to the kingdom. The next thing you know, regardless of party, they are holding hands with the king."

"I don't get why the Saudis hold such sway. Especially now. And not just over our politicians," he continued. "When [Crown Prince] Mohammed bin Salman came to the U.S. in the spring, he was fawned over by titans of industry, from MIT to Silicon Valley."

Smerconish went on to characterize the Saudi explanation of Khashoggi's death as not credible. Saudi officials said Friday that Khashoggi died after a fight broke out in the consulate between the journalist and more than a dozen Saudi personnel.

"[W]hy are these our partners?" Smerconish asked Saturday, before criticizing U.S. support of Saudi forces against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

"Why is it in the best interest of the United States to pick sides in a sectarian dispute that's been unresolved since the year 632?"

The CNN host's comments followed sharp criticism of the Saudi explanation from Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill, who questioned the evolving nature of the official story and other inconsistencies.

"First we were told Mr. Khashoggi supposedly left the consulate and there was blanket denial of any Saudi involvement. Now, a fight breaks out and he’s killed in the consulate, all without knowledge of Crown Prince,” Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThis week: House to vote on legislation to make lynching a federal hate crime Congress set for clash over surveillance reforms Five things to know about emerging US, Taliban peace deal MORE (R-S.C.) wrote Friday on Twitter.

“It’s hard to find this latest ‘explanation’ as credible,” the senator added.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpAdvisor: Sanders could beat Trump in Texas Bloomberg rips Sanders over Castro comments What coronavirus teaches us for preventing the next big bio threat MORE on Friday indicated that he believed the explanation, responding "I do," when questioned about it by reporters and praising an initial announcement of the arrest of more than a dozen Saudi nationals.

"It's a big step. There's a lot of people involved," the president told reporters.