Donald Trump appeared to question a CIA claim that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, casting doubt on his involvement and instead calling Saudi Arabia a “tremendous ally.”
On Friday, a report from the New York Times claimed that the CIA had determined Khashoggi’s murder came at the order of the Saudi ruler. This came after several weeks of denials from the Saudi Arabian government, which first denied any knowledge of the Washington Post writer’s killing before offering a series of evolving explanations, finally admitting that his murder was premeditated. The Saudi government has arrested the 15 agents who allegedly carried out his killing in early October.
Donald Trump, who had been hesitant to condemn the Saudi Arabian government during that time, continued to express doubt that Crown Prince Mohammad was involved in his killing. “As of this moment we were told that he did not play a role,” Trump said (via the Telegraph) appearing to reject the CIA claim. “We’re going to have to find out what they have to say.” Trump added that he would be getting a briefing from the CIA.
As the Telegraph noted, Donald Trump has been closely allied with Saudi Arabia since taking office and he has made the country a centerpiece of plans for the Middle East. He has been reluctant to criticize both Crown Prince Mohammad and Saudi Arabia as a whole, even saying in the immediate wake of Khashoggi’s murder that he did not want it to jeopardize a multi-billion dollar arms deal. Trump has also accepted the changing Saudi explanations, saying that they sounded credible.
The evidence appears to be building against the Saudis, however. As the Washington Post reported, Crown Prince Mohammad was found to be directly involved in the plot to draw Jamal Khashoggi to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he was picking up documents needed to marry his fiance. The report noted that the prince’s brother spoke to Khashoggi on the phone and assured him he would be safe in going to the consulate. But once inside, Khashoggi was intercepted by a team of 15 Saudi agents who reportedly tortured and killed him.
Donald Trump has not said exactly when he will be briefed by the CIA on Jamal Khashoggi’s murder and Crown Prince Mohammad’s alleged involvement. He is scheduled to travel to California on Saturday to survey damage from wildfires in the state.