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'I saved his ass': Trump brags he protected Mohammed bin Salman over Khashoggi murder

Trump defended Saudi crown prince after journalist's slaying, citing Riyadh's arms purchases, according to new book by journalist Bob Woodward
Trump has been reluctant to criticise his Saudi allies over Khashoggi's murder, consistently defending the kingdom
Trump has been reluctant to criticise his Saudi allies over Khashoggi's murder, consistently defending kingdom (Reuters)

US President Donald Trump bragged that he had protected Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) from congressional scrutiny after the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi two years ago, according to a forthcoming book detailing a veteran journalist's interviews with Trump.

The bombshell revelation comes from the soon-to-be-released book, Rage, by prominent US journalist Bob Woodward, which outlines 18 interviews with Trump over a range of issues, as well as interviews with numerous White House officials.

During a call between the president and Woodward, the journalist had asked him about the murder of Khashoggi, a columnist for the Washington Post and Middle East Eye.

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"The people at the [Washington] Post are upset about the Khashoggi killing," Woodward told Trump on 22 January, according to his book, a copy of which was obtained by Business Insider.

"That is one of the most gruesome things. You yourself have said."

After initially responding by claiming the Iranian government was killing dozens of people every day, the president later said "I saved his ass", referring to MBS.

"I was able to get Congress to leave him alone. I was able to get them to stop."

Khashoggi was killed on 2 October 2018 in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, in a case that further tarnished the reputation of the crown prince.

The journalist was strangled and his body cut into pieces by a 15-man Saudi squad inside the consulate, according to Turkish officials. His remains have not been found.

Riyadh has described the murder as a "rogue" operation, but the CIA linked MBS to the killing, a charge the kingdom vehemently denies.

Last year, Congress ordered the US intelligence chief to submit an unclassified report that would outline the role of any Saudi officials in "the directing, ordering, or tampering of evidence in the killing of Khashoggi".

The Trump administration ignored the call and instead sent a fully classified report, after the deadline, with a single unclassified page saying it would not release the information publicly to protect "sources and methods".

MBS 'didn't do it'

As Woodward continued to press Trump on Khashoggi, the president said: "Well, I understand what you're saying, and I've gotten involved very much. I know everything about the whole situation."

When asked about the crown prince's role in the murder, Trump stressed both MBS' claim of innocence and Saudi Arabia's arms purchases from the US, worth billions of dollars.

Trump has been reluctant to criticise his Saudi allies over the murder, consistently defending the kingdom by citing its geopolitical role against Iran and lucrative arms deals with Washington.

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After CIA Director Gina Haspel met with key senators from both major parties behind closed doors in December 2018, several legislators came out saying they were convinced bin Salman was behind the murder.

In addition to the CIA, Agnes Callamard, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, found in her own report that the killing was a state-sanctioned crime by Saudi Arabia, which is led by MBS as the de facto ruler.

Still, Trump has remained in defence of the crown prince, stating his innocence to Woodward.

"He will always say that he didn't do it," Trump said of MBS. "He says that to everybody, and frankly I'm happy that he says that. But he will say that to you, he will say that to Congress, and he will say that to everybody. He's never said he did it.

"He says very strongly that he didn't do it. Bob, they spent $400bn over a fairly short period of time," the president said.

Trump also boasted about how much Saudi Arabia relied on the United States, saying that the country "wouldn't last a week if we're not there, and they know it".

The US president has vetoed a bipartisan bill to end US support for the Saudi military campaign in Yemen, bypassed Congress to push through an $8bn arms sale to the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates, and also ended a decades-old Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) in order to sell large armed drones to foreign militaries, including those of Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.