President Donald Trump confirmed the United States has a copy of the tape of journalist Jamal Khashoggi being killed but said he does not want to hear it as ‘it’s a terrible tape.’
‘I don’t want to hear the tape, no reason for me to hear the tape,’ he told ‘Fox News Sunday.’
He added that ‘it’s a suffering tape, it’s a terrible tape. I’ve been fully briefed on it, there’s no reason for me to hear it, in fact I said to the people should I? They said: ‘you really shouldn’t, there’s no reason.’ I know exactly – I know everything that went on in the tape without having to hear it.’
He called the recording of Khashoggi being murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul ‘very violent, very vicious and terrible.’
He also wouldn’t say if he thought Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had lied to him when he said he wasn’t behind the journalist’s death.
‘I don’t know, you know who could really know but I can say this he’s got many people now that say he had no knowledge,’ the president said.
He added: ‘He told me that he had nothing to do with it, he told me that I would say maybe five times at different points.’
The president had called the CIA’s assessment that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had Khashoggi killed ‘very premature’ and said the government will reveal who they think was behind the murder on Tuesday.
Trump made the remarks hours after the State Department said the government was still working on determining responsibility for the death of Khashoggi, a US-based Washington Post columnist.
‘Recent reports indicating that the U.S. government has made a final conclusion are inaccurate,’ State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement. ‘There remain numerous unanswered questions with respect to the murder of Mr. Khashoggi.’
However, the president hasn’t entirely ruled out the possibility Salman could be behind the murder, calling it ‘possible.’
The Saudi government has denied that claim.
Trump, who was in California to witness the aftermath of the wildfires on Saturday, said he will receive a report Tuesday which will explain who the government thinks killed Khashoggi and what the impact of his murder is. The killing ‘should never have happened,’ he added.
Nauert said the State Department will continue to seek facts and work with other countries to hold those involved in the journalist’s killing accountable ‘while maintaining the important strategic relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia.’
Trump discussed the CIA assessment by phone with the agency’s director, Gina Haspel, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo while flying to California on Saturday, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters.
The CIA had briefed other parts of the U.S. government, including Congress, on its assessment, sources told Reuters on Friday, a development that complicates Trump’s efforts to preserve ties with the key U.S. ally.
A source familiar with the CIA’s assessment said it was based largely on circumstantial evidence relating to the prince’s central role in running the Saudi government.
The CIA’s finding is the most definitive U.S. assessment to date tying Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler directly to the killing and contradicts Saudi government assertions that Prince Mohammed was not involved.
Khashoggi, a critic of the crown prince, was killed in October at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul when he went there to pick up documents he needed for his planned marriage.
As lawmakers push legislation to punish Saudi Arabia for the killing, both Republican and Democratic senators on Saturday urged Trump to be tough on the crown prince, with whom he has cultivated a deep personal relationship.
‘Everything points to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, MbS, ordering @washingtonpost journalist Jamal #Khashoggi’s killing. The Trump administration should make a credible determination of responsibility before MbS executes the men who apparently carried out his orders,’ tweeted Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on Saturday.
Trump and top administration officials have said Saudi Arabia should be held to account for any involvement in Khashoggi’s death and have imposed sanctions on 17 Saudis for their role in the killing.
But they have also stressed the importance of Washington’s ties with Riyadh, one of the biggest clients of the U.S. defense industry. Trump wants to preserve the Saudi arms deals, despite growing opposition in Congress.
‘They have been a truly spectacular ally in terms of jobs and economic development,’ Trump said. ‘As president, I have to take a lot of things into consideration.’
Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted on Saturday that the kingdom plays a key military role for the United States in the Middle East.
‘Saudi Arabia has been an important partner to regional security in the past. I expect they will be in the future,’ he said at a security forum in Halifax, adding Middle Eastern allies including Saudi Arabia are ‘a stabilizing force in the region.’
On Thursday, Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor said he was seeking the death penalty for five suspects charged in the killing of Khashoggi.
The prosecutor, Shaalan al-Shaalan, told reporters the crown prince knew nothing of the operation, in which Khashoggi’s body was dismembered and removed from the consulate. Saudi officials have said a team of 15 Saudi nationals were sent to confront Khashoggi and he was accidentally killed in a chokehold by men who were trying to force him to return to the kingdom.
Lawmakers critical of Saudi Arabia for Khashoggi’s killing and its role in Yemen’s civil war are ramping up their efforts to clamp down on the country.
‘Trump must accept (for once) his intelligence experts’ incontrovertible conclusion: Crown Prince MBS is culpable for Khashoggi’s monstrous murder. This brazen killing must have consequences — sanctions, prosecution, removal of MBS & others, not continued cover-up, enabled by Trump,’ tweeted Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal on Saturday.
Earlier Saturday, Trump told reporters at the White House that he hadn’t been briefed but that ‘as of this moment we were told that (the prince) did not play a role. We’re going to have to find out what they have to say.’
The intelligence agencies’ conclusion will bolster efforts in Congress to further punish the close U.S. ally for the killing. The Trump administration this past week penalized 17 Saudi officials for their alleged role in the killing, but American lawmakers have called on the administration to curtail arms sales to Saudi Arabia or take other harsher punitive measures.
The U.S. official familiar with the intelligence agencies’ conclusion was not authorized to discuss it publicly and spoke only condition of anonymity Friday. The conclusion was first reported by The Washington Post.
Saudi Arabia’s top diplomat has said the crown prince had ‘absolutely’ nothing to do with the killing.
Vice President Mike Pence told reporters traveling with him at a summit of Pacific Rim nations in Papua New Guinea that he could not comment on ‘classified information.’
He said Saturday ‘the murder of Jamal Khashoggi was an atrocity. It was also an affront to a free and independent press, and the United States is determined to hold all of those accountable who are responsible for that murder.’
The United States will ‘follow the facts,’ Pence said, while trying to find a way of preserving a ‘strong and historic partnership’ with Saudi Arabia.
Khashoggi, a Saudi who lived in the United States, was a columnist for the Post and often criticized the royal family. He was killed October 2 at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Turkish and Saudi authorities say he was killed inside the consulate by a team from the kingdom after he went there to get marriage documents.
This past week, U.S. intelligence officials briefed members of the Senate and House intelligence committees, and the Treasury Department announced economic sanctions on 17 Saudi officials suspected of being responsible for or complicit in the killing.
Among those targeted for sanctions were Mohammed al-Otaibi, the diplomat in charge of the consulate, and Maher Mutreb, who was part of the crown prince’s entourage on trips abroad.
The sanctions freeze any assets the 17 may have in the U.S. and prohibit any Americans from doing business with them.
Also this past week, the top prosecutor in Saudi Arabia announced he will seek the death penalty against five men suspected in the killing. The prosecutor’s announcement sought to quiet the global outcry over Khashoggi’s death and distance the killers and their operation from the kingdom’s leadership, primarily the crown prince.
Trump has called the killing a botched operation that was carried out very poorly and has said ‘the cover-up was one of the worst cover-ups in the history of cover-ups.’
But he has resisted calls to cut off arms sales to the kingdom and has been reluctant to antagonize the Saudi rulers. Trump considers the Saudis vital allies in his Mideast agenda.
The Post, citing unnamed sources, also reported that U.S. intelligence agencies reviewed a phone call that the prince’s brother, Khalid bin Salman, had with Khashoggi. The newspaper said the prince’s brother, who is the current Saudi ambassador to the United States, told Khashoggi he would be safe in going to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to retrieve the documents he needed to get married.
The newspaper said it was not known whether the ambassador knew Khashoggi would be killed. But it said he made the call at the direction the crown prince, and the call was intercepted by U.S. intelligence.
Fatimah Baeshen, a spokeswoman for the Saudi Embassy in Washington, said that claim was false.
She said in a statement issued to The Associated Press that the ambassador met Khashoggi in person once in late September 2017. After that, they communicated via text messages, she said. The last text message the ambassador sent to Khashoggi was on Oct. 26, 2017, she said.
Baeshen said the ambassador did not discuss with Khashoggi ‘anything related to going to Turkey.’
‘Ambassador Prince Khalid bin Salman has never had any phone conversations with him,’ she said.
‘You are welcome to check the phone records and cell phone content to corroborate this – in which case, you would have to request it from Turkish authorities,’ Baeshen said, adding that Saudi prosecutors have checked the phone records numerous times to no avail.
The ambassador himself tweeted: ‘The last contact I had with Mr. Khashoggi was via text on Oct. 26, 2017. I never talked to him by phone and certainly never suggested he go to Turkey for any reason. I ask the U.S. government to release any information regarding this claim.’