Thomas J. Barrack Jr., a billionaire real estate investor who is one of President Trump's closest confidants, apologized on Wednesday after defending Saudi Arabia following the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Barack's comments on Khashoggi, which took place on Tuesday at a summit in Abu Dhabi, hosted by Milken Institute thinkers in Santa Monica, were first reported in Dubai's Gulf News.
"Whatever happened in Saudi Arabia, the atrocities in America are the same or even worse for the atrocities in Saudi Arabia," Barrack said at the MENA Summit of the Milken Institute of the Crowd, like Gulf News reporter Ed Clowes announced.
"The atrocities in any autocratic country are determined by the rule of law," Barrack continued. "So, to dictate what we think, the moral code is there – if we have a young man [Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman] and a regime that is trying to move forward by 2030 – I think it's a mistake. "
In a statement on Wednesday, Barrack called the killing of Khashoggi "abominable" and "inexcusable" and apologized for not having made that clear in my comments earlier this week.
However, he seemed to claim that the killing should not be based on the Saudi leadership.
"I firmly believe that the bad deeds of a few should not be interpreted as the failure of a whole sovereign kingdom," said Barack, noting that "the rule of law and monarchies throughout the Middle East are confusing the West."
Khashoggi, a contributing Washington Post columnist and a prominent critic of Muhammad's policies, was killed and dismembered by a team of Saudi Arabian agents in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul on October 2, Turkish and Saudi prosecutors say.
In November, the CIA found that Mohammed had ordered the assassination of Khashoggi. Saudi officials reject this claim and say the agents who killed Khashoggi acted against orders.
The issue has created a gap between Trump and Republicans in Congress, some of whom have joined the Democrats in accusing the Trump administration of misleading the country and covering up the truth about Muhammad's alleged involvement.
Barrack, CEO of real estate firm Colony NorthStar, has been friends with Trump for over three decades.
He was also a top fundraiser during Trump's campaign in 2016, earning more than $ 100 million as chair of the Trump Founding Committee, which is being investigated by federal prosecutors.
In the 1970s, Barack worked in Saudi Arabia, where he became friends with sons of the Saudi king. Later, he served as US representative, reports Michael Kranish of The Post.
At the event on Tuesday Barrack discussed in detail his views on Saudi Arabia in response to a question from moderator Becky Anderson of CNN.
Asked for his opinion on the "reputational damage" that Saudi Arabia had caused by the killing of Khashoggi, Barrack began his response: "As long as you do not make me a guest at the Ritz" – an obvious reference to the hotel in Riyadh has doubled as a luxurious detention center for civil servants, businessmen and princes.
He suggested that "what happened to the incident in Khashoggi" is the result of a longstanding fundamental misunderstanding between the Middle East and the West.
"The West is confused about the rule of law – does not understand what the rule of law is in the Kingdom; does not understand what a succession in the kingdom is; I do not understand how there can be a dilemma with 27 million people in the population, 60 percent of whom are under the age of 20, "said Barrack.
The "corrupt hand of the West" has been for decades the "most important instigator in the kingdom".
"I'm fortunate enough to have the DNA of an Arab, the Lebanese, and the gift of American freedom," said Barrack, whose grandfather emigrated to the United States from a city that used to be in Syria and is now part of Syria Lebanon. "But as Arabs, we have done a poor job of communicating who we really are, especially the West."
In his apology on Wednesday, Barrack said he was proud to be American, but claimed that the United States made some mistakes in the region without giving any further details.
"I love America and am itself a product of American freedom, American leadership and the American dream," he said. "I have always believed and believe that the United States is the largest country in the world, but our history and policies in the Middle East have sometimes been confusing."
Philip Bump and Kareem Fahim contributed to this report.