US President Donald Trump. Photo: Reuters
US President Donald Trump has said he had spoken with the CIA chief on the agency’s assessment of the killing of Jamal Khashoggi and that there will be a “very full report” by Tuesday, amid reports that the CIA had held powerful the Saudi crown prince responsible for the murder of the dissident journalist.
The death of 59-year-old Khashoggi, a onetime insider turned critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and a resident of the US, has spurred a wave of international
anger against Saudi Arabia and its ruler. In an interaction with reporters in California on Saturday, Trump said that he spoke with Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Gina Haspel, who has been studying this case very closely.
“It’s a horrible thing that took place, the killing of a journalist... It should never have happened,” Trump said.
Asked about reports that the CIA had assessed involvement by the crown prince, the president said, “they haven’t assessed anything yet. It’s too early. That was a very a premature report.” “We’ll be having a very full report over the next two days, probably Monday or Tuesday,” Trump said.
He then said more definitely that there would be “a report on Tuesday.” The report will address what “we think the overall impact was and who caused it, and who did it.” “In the meantime we’re doing things to some people that we know for a fact were involved and we’re being very tough on a lot of people,” he added.
Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 to obtain paperwork for his marriage.
Saudi Arabia had offered a series of contradictory explanations for Khashoggi’s death. After repeated denials, Saudi Arabia finally admitted Khashoggi had been murdered at the compound but blamed it on a “rogue” operation.
On Friday, the Washington Post reported that the CIA had assessed with high confidence the Saudi leader’s role, based on multiple sources of intelligence.
The CIA found that 15 Saudi agents flew on government planes to Istanbul and carried out the killing at the Saudi consulate, the report said, adding that it could complicate President Trump’s efforts to preserve US ties with one of the closest American allies in the region. “The accepted position is that there is no way this happened without him being aware or involved,” a US official familiar with the CIA’s conclusions, told the daily.
Saudi Arabia has denied any such linkage. Fatimah Baeshen, a spokeswoman for the Saudi Embassy in Washington, said that the claims in the CIA’s “purported assessment are false. We have and continue to hear various theories without seeing the primary basis for these speculations.” According to the report, it is CIA assessment that the crown prince who is the defacto ruler of the country would survive the crisis.
Officially Saudi Arabia has blamed the brutal murder of Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to rogue elements. Khashoggi was forcibly restrained and injected with a large amount of a drug resulting in an overdose that led to his death, alleged the Saudi prosecutors, who has sought death penalty for 11 of its officials.
Turkish investigating agencies provided the CIA an audio recording that proves the brutal murder of Khashoggi. After his killing, one of those involved in it called Saud al Qahtani, then one of the top aides to the crown prince, and informed him that the operation had been completed, according to people familiar with the call.
A conclusion that the crown prince was responsible for the murder of Khashoggi could endanger the US relationship with Saudi Arabia, The Wall Street Journal said.
“The assessment that the Crown Prince ordered the murder is not surprising but it significantly undermines the administration’s effort to whitewash the Saudi prince,” Bruce Riedel, a former top CIA and White House official, who is now at the Brookings Institution think tank, told the journal.
“It raises the question why the crown prince has not been sanctioned by the Treasury Department,” Riedel said.
“The CIA just concluded that MBS, the Saudi Crown Prince, ordered Khashoggi’s killing. Every literate person knows that MBS continues to order the killing of thousands of civilians in Yemen. It’s time for the US to stop supporting MBS’s war in Yemen. Congress must act,” Indian-American Congressman Ro Khanna tweeted on Friday.