WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump said Saturday that his administration will release a full report in the next two days about the death of a Saudi journalist, which has created a diplomatic conundrum for the president: How to admonish Riyadh for the killing yet maintain strong ties with a close ally in the Middle East.
“We’ll be having a very full report over the next two days, probably Monday or Tuesday,” Trump said. That will include “who did it,” he said.
Reporters asked Trump about the death of Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post who was slain Oct. 2 inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Saudi Arabia’s top diplomat has said the crown prince had “absolutely” nothing to do with it.
American intelligence agencies have concluded that the crown prince ordered the killing in the Saudi Consulate in Turkey, according to a US official familiar with the assessment. The official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. Others familiar with the case caution that while it’s likely that the crown prince was involved in the death, there continue to be questions about what role he played.
“The United States government is determined to hold all those responsible for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi accountable,” the State Department said in a statement. “Recent reports indicating that the US government has made a final conclusion are inaccurate. There remain numerous unanswered questions with respect to the murder of Mr. Khashoggi.”
The statement added: “The US government has taken decisive measures against the individuals responsible, including visa and sanctions actions. We will continue to explore additional measures to hold those accountable who planned, led and were connected to the murder. And, we will do that while maintaining the important strategic relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia.”
Intelligence officials have been providing information to Trump about the death for weeks and he was briefed again by phone Saturday by CIA Director Gina Haspel and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as he flew to California. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders provided no details of his call but said the president has confidence in the CIA.
Before his call on Air Force One, Trump told reporters that when it came to the crown prince, “as of this moment we were told that he did not play a role. We’re going to have to find out what they have to say.” That echoed remarks by national security adviser John Bolton, who said earlier this week that people who have listened to an audio recording of the killing do not think it implicates the crown prince.
Also before leaving on his trip, Trump said Saudi Arabia was “a truly spectacular ally in terms of jobs and economic development.”
“I have to take a lot of things into consideration” when deciding what measures to take against the kingdom, he said.
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.
But members of Congress are pushing Trump for a tougher response to the killing. The 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.
Vice President Mike Pence told reporters traveling with him Saturday for a summit of Pacific Rim nations in Papua, New Guinea, that 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.”
Khashoggi, a Saudi who lived in the United States, often criticized the royal family. 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.