In defending Trump’s reaction to the murder of a U.S.-based columnist, Utah Rep. Stewart says ‘journalists disappear’ all the time

FILE - In this Oct. 25, 2018, file photo, candles lit by activists protesting the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi are placed outside Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has criticized Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the killing. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis, File)

Washington • Rep. Chris Stewart defended President Donald Trump’s dismissal of CIA findings that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince was complicit in the killing of a U.S.-based journalist, noting that America needs relationships with some countries with which it doesn’t always agree.

And, Stewart noted, “journalists disappear” all over the world.

Stewart appeared on CNN on Tuesday not long after a bipartisan group of senators received a closed-door briefing by CIA Director Gina Haspel about the killing of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, who was reportedly slain and dismembered inside a Saudi consulate in Turkey.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was a “wrecking ball” and that “he’s complicit in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi to the highest level.”

There’s not a smoking gun — there’s a smoking saw,” Graham said, referencing a bone saw that was apparently used in the consulate to dismember Khashoggi’s body.

Trump has called the slaying “terrible” but noted that the crown prince had denied any knowledge of the killing ahead of time.

Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t,” Trump said, adding that the U.S. has a strong interest in keeping Saudi Arabia as an ally and moving forward with a high-figure weapons deal that was helping U.S. workers.

The senators said Haspel’s briefing contradicted information from Trump as well as Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Stewart said he didn't buy it.

“If someone said Secretary Mattis or Pompeo were dishonest, they just don’t know those individuals,” Stewart told CNN.

“The question is what do we do now,” Stewart added. “Because we’ve got a couple of very perplexing problems; the first is this and it’s simple: We have to have a relationship with some players that we don’t agree with. Journalists disappear all over the country. Twenty journalists have been killed in Mexico. You don’t think it happens in Turkey and China? Of course it does.”

But, Stewart said, the United States has to continue relationships with those countries.

“And the second thing is what is in the best interest of the United States and this is a very, very difficult challenge because we have to, on one hand, hold them accountable, including the crown prince, for whatever action he may be involved with,” the Utah congressman said. “And at the same time what is protecting U.S. interests, what is going to counter Shia extremists; what will help bring stability; what will help bring an end to the war in Yemen. You have to balance all of those considerations as we move forward on this.”

In a statement attempting to clarify his comments later in the day, Stewart said: “We cannot brush aside the murder of any journalist, and I have always said that those who are responsible for the murder of Mr. Khashoggi should be held responsible. As the leader of the free world, we have to accomplish two goals: Defend human rights while also attempting to maintain important relationships with key allies that we hope will help us bring stability to critical parts of the world. We should always strive to do both.”

Stewart’s comments come on top of reports that 2018 has been one of the deadliest years for journalists in modern history, with 45 journalists killed this year so far.

Chase Thomas, executive director of the left-leaning Alliance for a Better Utah, said Stewart was continuing to blindly defend Trump at all costs.

“This is yet another instance of Stewart attempting to act as an apologist for Donald Trump, and the result is once again absolutely horrific,” Thomas said. “It doesn’t matter if journalists have been killed in other countries. Journalists should not be assassinated. Period. We believe in freedom of the press here, and we should be promoting that ideal around the world, not excusing it because it’s politically convenient in excusing the blunders of our president.”