Trump speaks with CIA about Khashoggi killing, says there will be a report by Tuesday

Trump speaks with CIA about Khashoggi killing, says there will be a report by Tuesday
Trump calls Saudi Arabia spectacular ally, denies he is plotting to kidnap Turkish dissident
The CIA has intelligence that substantiates an assessment that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to a U.S. official familiar with the intelligence.

The official declined to characterize the confidence level of the CIAs assessment. A separate U.S. official told CBS News Friday that U.S. intelligence has “high confidence” in its assessment that bin Salman ordered the killing — an assessment based on an understanding of how Saudi Arabia operates.

Vice President Mike Pence vowed Saturday the United States would hold the murderers of Jamal Khashoggi to account, following media reports that the CIA had concluded the Saudi Crown Prince was behind the journalists killing.

Neither official indicated that there is direct evidence linking bin Salman to the killing — including on the day of the incident.

And it would threaten to further fray relations between Washington and key ally Riyadh, which has sought to end discussion of the murder and rejected calls for an international investigation.

Video: CIA concludes Saudi crown prince ordered Jamal Khashoggis death, official says

The CIAs assessment regarding the death of Khashoggi, who wrote for The Washington Post, was first reported by news outlets Friday, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Associated Press. According to sources cited in the publications, the CIAs assessment appeared to be largely based on the control held by bin Salman. In other words, the murder could not have been carried out without the knowledge of bin Salman, often referred to by his initials, MBS.

If confirmed, the U.S. assessment would directly contradict the conclusions of a Saudi prosecutor a day earlier, which exonerated the prince of involvement in the brutal murder.

The CIA declined to comment. U.S. intelligence officials told CBS News that intelligence agencies believe the killing was premeditated. 

“The United States is determined to hold all of those accountable who are responsible for that murder,” Pence said on the sidelines of an APEC summit in Papua New Guinea.

President Trump told reporters Saturday morning that he hadnt been briefed on the assessment yet. He later spoke with his CIA chief and top diplomat about the spy agencys assessment of the killing.

The vice presidents comments come after reports that the CIA believed the powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was involved in the plot to murder the journalist.

Video: CIA says Saudi crown prince ordered Khashoggis murder: reports | Al Jazeera English

In a statement later on Saturday, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said the U.S. government is “determined” to hold all those responsible for Khashoggis killing accountable and that the government has not made a final conclusion.

Pence described the Saudi journalists killing as an “atrocity” and an “affront to a free and independent press” but declined to comment on classified information.

“There remain numerous unanswered questions with respect to the murder of Mr. Khashoggi,” she said. “The State Department will continue to seek all relevant facts. In the meantime, we will continue to consult Congress, and work with other nations to hold accountable those involved in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.”

But he also added the U.S. wanted to find a way of preserving a “strong and historic partnership” with Saudi Arabia.

Khashoggi, a prominent critic of the crown prince who was based in the U.S., was killed after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. In the first two weeks following his disappearance, Saudi officials denied any knowledge while Turkish officials anonymously said he had been murdered inside the consulate by a 15-member hit squad. On Oct. 19, the Saudi government admitted for the first time that Khashoggi had been murdered. 

So far, Turkey has not accused anyone of directly ordering the killing, though President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has excluded King Salman from the possible suspects, who (the suspect) Turkey says is a high-level figure in Riyadh. Still, the case has brought near unprecedented international scrutiny on Saudi Arabia and its powerful crown prince, who Khashoggi had openly criticized.

But it characterized the incident as a rogue operation and denied involvement by MBS. An official assessment that MBS ordered the killing would have important implications for U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia. 

“In reaching its conclusions, the CIA examined multiple sources of intelligence, including a phone call that the princes brother Khalid bin Salman, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, had with Khashoggi, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the intelligence,” the Post said in a piece.

On Thursday, the U.S. announced sanctions on 17 Saudi individuals allegedly involved in Khashoggis death. MBS was not among them, nor was former deputy intelligence chief Ahmad al-Assiri, who was identified by Saudi Arabias top prosecutor as the highest-level Saudi official behind Khashoggis killing.

On Nov. 4, The Wall Street Journal reported that al-Qahtani, known for his work for the crown prince as a social media adviser responsible for the smear campaign against dissidents, was both the planner and director of the killing.

President Trump has resisted blaming MBS for Khashoggis death. He has cited the importance of the Saudis in countering the influence of Iran in the region, as well as future military sales by U.S. defense contractors.

After weeks of denying any involvement in the crime, Saudi Arabia later admitted that Khashoggi had been killed inside the consulate but claimed the Saudi royal family had no prior knowledge of any plot to murder the journalist.

On Saturday, President Trump called Saudi Arabia a “spectacular ally,” citing the kingdoms contribution to American jobs and the economy. 

So far, the government in Saudi Arabia has indicted 11 people in connection with Khashoggis death, and 21 total are in custody. Saudi Arabias top prosecutor is recommending the death penalty for five of the suspects.

CBS News correspondent Holly Williams reported on Thursday the Saudi prosecutor gave the kingdoms first official acknowledgement that Khashoggis body was dismembered after he was killed inside the consulate — though that is what Turkish officials have been saying for weeks.

Officials in Turkey have repeatedly called on the Saudi government to take responsibility and hold those responsible for the murder accountable.

According to The Washington Post, the CIAs evidence also included a phone call between and Khashoggi and bin Salmans brother and U.S. ambassador Khalid bin Salman, who suggested Khashoggi go to Turkey. Khalid Bin Salman denied the allegation, saying the last communication he had with Khashoggi was nearly a year earlier. 

​According to The Wall Street Journal, al-Qahtani is now under criminal investigation and was fired from his job as a media adviser.

The CIA has concluded that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) personally ordered the killing of Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul earlier this fall, the Washington Post reported Friday. But Trump said the US intelligence agency hasn’t told him so personally yet, and continued to withhold judgment in a brief exchange with reporters on the White House lawn Saturday.

Khashoggi, a frequent contributor to The Washington Post, was killed Oct. 2 inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

“[The Saudis] give us a lot of jobs and a lot of business and economic development. They have been a truly spectacular ally in terms of jobs and economic development.

The comments continue Trump’s particularly awkward version of the diplomatic foxtrot any president would have to perform after a longtime ally is shown to have murdered a journalist on foreign soil.

The Saudis’ choice to kill the critic inside Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey further complicates the dance facing U.S. foreign policy actors, as Erdogan’s tilt toward authoritarianism over the past half-decade overlays Turkey’s key role in international attempts to resolve the civil war in Syria.

However challenging the Khashoggi murder would be to the U.S. in a vacuum, the particular character of this presidency kinks the hose even further.

Trump has bragged about making tens of millions of dollars in real estate sales to Saudi interests. Those business relationships to the kingdom are ongoing, and Trump has refused to erect a barrier between his duties to the country and his wallet. Like his old buddies in the professional wrestling world, Trump has looked to avoid upsetting those profitable relationships by tempering what might have been a more forceful official response from a different administration.

Early in the controversy, the White House had seemed to offer the Crown Prince an alternative narrative about Khashoggi’s fate, despite mounting evidence that MBS had sent close associates to Turkey to greet the longtime journalist with a bone saw.

Saudi Arabia flip-flops on Jamal Khashoggi No matter how many times the Saudis change their story, the Trump administration will stand by their side.

Trump’s downplaying of reports that the CIA has determined MBS personally ordered the murder is only the latest in a string of conciliatory gestures from the top of US officialdom that run counter to conclusions drawn elsewhere in the government.

But the “spectacular ally” line is perhaps only the second most egregious example of Trump’s shattering of the U.S. international human rights and law reputation from Saturday alone.

He also denied reports his administration is considering plans to kidnap Erdogan critic Fetulleh Gulen from his Pennsylvania residence and ship him off to Turkey to be punished by the regime — an idea the Turks first tried to plant in his brain via then-senior adviser Michael Flynn in the closing stages of the 2016 campaign.

More than two years after that first entreaty from Erdogan’s allies, NBC News reported this week that the illegal and shocking scheme has resurfaced as a way to mollify Erdogan’s wrath about Khashoggi by handing over Gulen.

Diplomacy famously contorts and complicates all who engage in it. But this president having to officially, personally, and publicly deny that he’s brainstorming through a two-wrongs-make-a-right foreign policy illustrates how quickly the U.S.’s carefully cultivated international reputation has been shaken.

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