By Samuel Chamberlain-Fox News
President Trump told Fox News’ Chris Wallace Sunday that there was “no reason” for him to hear a tape recording purported to be of the murder of Saudi activist Jamal Khashoggi inside the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate last month.
“We have the tape, I don’t want to hear the tape, no reason for me to hear the tape,” Trump said in the interview broadcast on “Fox News Sunday.” When Wallace asked why he did not want to hear the recording, 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 president added that he knew “everything that went on in the tape without having to hear it” before calling Khashoggi’s death “very violent, very vicious and terrible.”
The interview was broadcast one day after Trump vowed that his administration would “be having a very full report over the next two days, probably Monday or Tuesday.” It was unclear whether the document would be made public.
The Washington Post and other outlets have reported that the CIA had concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s death. A U.S. government official told Fox News on Saturday that no final assessment or conclusion relating to the crown prince’s involvement had been reached, nor had a so-called “smoking gun” been found.
Trump told “Fox News Sunday” that the crown prince, known informally as “MbS,” had told him “maybe five times” that he had no involvement in Khashoggi’s death. When Wallace asked what Trump would do if he determines that the crown prince has lied to him, Trump said: “Will anybody really know?”
“He did have, certainly, people that were reasonably close to him and close to him that were probably involved,” the president added. “You saw we put on very heavy sanctions, massive sanctions on a large group of people from Saudi Arabia. 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.”
This past week, the administration penalized 17 Saudi officials for their alleged role in the killing. However, lawmakers have called on the administration to curtail arms sales to Saudi Arabia or take other harsher punitive measures.
Intelligence officials have been providing information to Trump for weeks about the death, and he was briefed again by phone Saturday by CIA Director Gina Haspel and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as he flew to California to survey damage from wildfires in that state. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders provided no details of his call but said the president has confidence in the CIA.
“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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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.”
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.
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.”
Turkish :and Saudi authorities say Khashoggi, a Saudi who lived in the United States, was killed inside the consulate by a team from the kingdom after he went there to get marriage documents.