Donald Trump said Sunday he won’t listen to audio of the “violent, very vicious and very terrible” death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but he’s sticking by Saudi Arabia anyway.
Trump’s fealty to Riyadh comes despite reports the CIA has concluded that de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman was responsible for the killing.
“We have the tape, I don't want to hear the tape, no reason for me to hear the tape,” Trump told Fox News.
When asked why he didn’t want to listen to it, Trump said: “Because 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.”
The audio recording was made inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 and reportedly documents the last moments of Khashoggi’s life. Turkish authorities claim he was tortured and murdered by an assassination squad sent from Saudi Arabia, possibly on the orders of MBS.
Saudi authorities admitted that Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate, but have attempted to paint his death as a kidnapping gone wrong.
It’s a line Turkish officials have publicly dismissed, including the country’s defense minister, who said Sunday his government believes Khashoggi's body — which has yet to be found — was smuggled out of the country in a suitcase.
“They committed the murder, then after that, in three or four hours, they left Turkey,” Hulusi Akar told a panel discussion at the Halifax International Security Forum in Canada. “Because of diplomatic immunity, they left very easily without having a problem with the luggage. Possibly within the luggage, they carried the ... body of Jamal Khashoggi.”
Trump’s interview with Fox was conducted prior to a report by the Washington Post that said the CIA has concluded with a high degree of confidence that the Crown Prince was responsible for the killing.
However, the State Department dismissed that report, saying no final conclusion has been reached.
“Recent reports indicating that the U.S. government has made a final conclusion are inaccurate. There remain numerous unanswered questions with respect to the murder of Mr. Khashoggi,” spokesperson Heather Nauert said.
An official report from the State Department is expected in the coming days.
Asked on Fox if he felt MBS had lied to him, Trump attempted to defend the Saudi ruler: “I don’t know, how can anybody really know? But I can say this: He’s got many people now that say he had no knowledge.”
Trump also defended the administration’s cozy relationship with the oil-rich nation. The president said the U.S. had imposed heavy sanctions against a number of individuals from the Kingdom, “but at the same time, we do have an ally, and I want to stick with an ally that in many ways has been very good.”
In private, Trump has questioned why Khashoggi’s murder has gained so much media attention, given that other countries — such as China — do much worse, Axios reported Sunday.
Trump had previously questioned the need to take Khashoggi’s side given the murder didn’t happen in the U.S. and that the journalist wasn’t even a U.S. citizen.
Cover image: A screen grab from Donald Trump's interview with Fox News.