Trump refrains from blaming Saudi crown prince, though CIA reportedly concluded that he ordered Khashoggi's slaying
US President Donald Trump says he has been fully briefed on an audio recording of journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder but does not want to listen to it himself.
"Because it's a suffering tape. It's a terrible tape," he said in an interview with Fox News Sunday. "It was very violent, very vicious and terrible."
Trump refrained from blaming Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS), even though the CIA reportedly concluded that he ordered the 2 October assassination in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, AFP reported.
Trump on Saturday told reporters that the US would release "a very full report" on the matter as early as Monday. He was interviewed by Fox on Friday, hours before government sources said the CIA had briefed the Trump administration on the murder and its belief that MBS ordered it, according to Reuters.
Asked whether the crown prince had lied to him in denying any role in the killing, Trump said: "I don't know. Who can really know? … He's got many people... that say he had no knowledge."
The president acknowledged that people close to the prince "were probably involved" but added, "I want to stick with an ally that in many ways has been very good."
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) November 18, 2018
Saudi Arabia is a major oil supplier and a close ally of the US in countering Iranian power in the Middle East.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a close ally of Trump, said on Sunday he had no doubt about MBS’s involvement in ordering the murder of Khashoggi.
"They are an important ally but when it comes to the crown prince, he's irrational, he's unhinged and I think he's done a lot of damage to the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia. And I have no intention of working with him ever again," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Asked whether he would go along with moves in the US Congress to cut off US involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen or halt arms sales to the kingdom, Trump equivocated.
"I want to see Yemen end. It takes two to tango and Iran has to end also," he said. "I want Saudi to stop but I want Iran to stop also."
The United States has called for a ceasefire and peace talks to end the three-year-old conflict amid a mounting international outcry over the massive civilian toll of air strikes.
US air refuelling flights in support of Saudi-led air operations in Yemen ended last week. US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said that was a Saudi decision.
Saudi Arabia and its ally the United Arab Emirates intervened in the conflict against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in 2015 in support of President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi.
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Khashoggi, a columnist for the Washington Post who was critical of the crown prince, was killed after going to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to retrieve documents necessary to marry his Turkish fiancee.
According to Turkish officials, the audio indicates that Khashoggi was strangled to death and dismembered soon after entering the consulate.
Saudi Arabia has offered shifting accounts of what happened, initially saying Khashoggi left the embassy after receiving his documents and later that he was killed when an argument degenerated into a fistfight.
In the latest version, the Saudi prosecutor said a 15-member team went to Istanbul to bring Khashoggi back to the kingdom but killed him instead in a rogue operation.
The prosecutor exonerated the crown prince, after indicting 11 Saudis and sacking five officials, including two members of Prince Mohammed's inner circle.
Turkey has a complete record of communications in and out of Saudi Arabia's Istanbul consulate in the week of Jamal Khashoggi's murder, a senior Turkish source told Middle East Eye. The communications will be used to tear apart Riyadh's latest version of the killing.
These recordings, MEE has learned, have given Turkey a detailed picture of the various operatives, teams and missions issued from Saudi Arabia.
The contents of these communications, the source said, will turn the screw on a Saudi leadership that has sought to insulate itself from the scandal.
According to the source, Turkey intends to drip feed the information gleaned from the communications to the media, as it has been doing ever since Khashoggi was brutally murdered.
On Sunday, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar was cited by CNN Turk as saying that Khashoggi's killers may have taken his dismembered body out of Turkey in luggage.
Speaking at a panel as part of an international conference in Halifax, Canada, Akar said: "One probability is that they left the country three to four hours after committing the murder. They may have taken out Khashoggi's dismembered corpse inside luggage without facing problems due to their diplomatic immunity."