President Donald Trump backed off Saturday from his claim that Saudia Arabia’s explanation about the circumstances surrounding the death of Washington Post journalist Khashoggi is credible, but failed to connect Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. In an interview, Trump stressed the importance of Saudi Arabia’s role in the Middle East and called Mohammed “a strong person” who “has very good control.” Adding to his comments, the president said, “He’s seen as a person who can keep things under check. I mean that in a positive way.”
The president admitted Saturday that Saudi accounts of Khashoggi are inconsistent. The Washington Post reported that he directly stated that “obviously there’s been deception and there’s been lies,” adding that “their stories are all over the place,” but unlike others did not call for the ouster of Mohammed or any other consequences for him or Saudi Arabia as a result of Khashoggi’s death. The president indicated that he doesn’t see a need for a punishment at this time because he has not been provided with proof that Mohammed was connected with the journalist’s death.
Several who are serving in Congress have clearly blamed Mohammed and have called for the Trump administration to administer some kind of punishment for his role in the death of Jamal Khashoggi. These calls come from both sides of the aisle and include Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Republican Senator and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker of Tennessee. A bipartisan letter signed by lawmakers has also been signed and expresses Congress’s concern about the journalist’s death.
Report: President Trump sees adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner’s relationship with Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman as a “liability” that has left the White House with “no good options.” https://t.co/rixV2TUMGK
— The Daily Beast (@thedailybeast) October 21, 2018
Despite multiple reports about the existence of an audio tape of Khashoggi’s torture and killing within Turkey’s Saudi embassy, President Trump says he has yet to hear the tape, saying no one has told him that they assign blame to Mohammed. He also indicated that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has not seen or heard the tape and seemed to indicate that he questions its existence although there have been reports that the CIA has heard the tape that was provided by Turkish officials. It’s been described as evidence that Saudi agents killed and dismembered Khashoggi inside the consulate.
“I’ve heard all about the videos or the tapes. Nobody would get it faster than me. Nobody has been able to show it.”
Trump also denied knowledge of any evidence connecting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the incident in any way.
“Nobody has told me he’s responsible. Nobody has told me he’s not responsible. We haven’t reached that point. I haven’t heard either way. There is a possibility he found out about it afterward. It could be something in the building went badly awry. It could be that’s when he found out about it. He could have known they were bringing him back to Saudi Arabia.”
The president also explained that his hope is that Mohammed had no involvement with Khashoggi’s killing because, given Iran’s behavior, Saudi Arabia is a valuable and critical ally at this time. He added that China and Russia would benefit from the United States ceasing provision of arms to Saudi Arabia as some have suggested.