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US lawmakers urge Trump to accept CIA finding that MBS ordered Khashoggi murder

Saudi foreign minister rejects CIA's conclusion that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered Jamal Khashoggi's murder
Trump has defended his Saudi allies, casting doubt over the US intelligence agency's conclusion (Reuters)

Members of the United States Congress are calling on President Donald Trump to accept the CIA's assessment that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

The CIA said it believes that bin Salman, also known as MBS, gave the green light for the journalist's murder, several US media outlets reported late on Friday.

US Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, called on Trump to back the CIA's "incontrovertible conclusion," accusing the president of supporting a Saudi cover-up of "Khashoggi’s monstrous murder".

"The CIA drops the dime on Crown Prince MBS—definitively, indisputably," Blumenthal wrote on Twitter over the weekend. "Time for justice in Khashoggi’s mob-like murder. No accepting Saudi evil."

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, said the CIA's findings "have no basis in truth and we totally reject them".

"We in the kingdom know that such allegations about the crown prince have no basis in truth and we categorically reject them, whether through leaks or not," Jubeir was quoted as saying in Saudi-owned Al Sharq Al Awsat newspaper in the first Saudi official comment on the CIA report.

"They are leaks that have not been officially announced, and I have noticed that they are based on an assessment, not conclusive evidence," he added.

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While the US president has promised to release a full intelligence report Tuesday on US findings on Khashoggi's murder, Trump has also tried to defend his Saudi allies, casting doubt on the US intelligence agency's conclusion.

In an interview with Fox News on Sunday, the president reiterated that bin Salman has denied being involved, saying it would be impossible to find out definitively if the crown prince had a hand in what happened.

"Well, he told me that he had nothing to do with it. He told me that I would say maybe five times at different points, as recently as a few days ago," Trump said.

Khashoggi, a prominent US-based Saudi journalist who was critical of MBS, was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October after entering the building to retrieve personal documents.

Meanwhile, the incoming House Intelligence Committee chairman, Adam Schiff, said it was "very difficult" for him to believe that Khashoggi was killed without bin Salman's knowledge, given the crown prince's "central role" in the Saudi government.

"The president needs to listen to what our intelligence community has to say, what our best professionals' assessment is and it's vitally important that this administration not allow itself to become part of any Saudi cover-up," Schiff, a Democrat, said in an interview with ABC News on Sunday.

'Credible determination'

Saudi Arabia announced last week that it will be seeking the death penalty for five individuals accused of killing Khashoggi. The kingdom, however, has tried to shield MBS from the controversy, alleging that the crown prince had no role or knowledge of the hit.

On Saturday, Bob Corker, the retiring Republican chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, urged Trump to make a "credible determination" as to who is responsible for the murder before the Saudi suspects are executed.

Ron Wyden, a Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, told Reuters on Monday that leaders in the US inteligence community should "come out and provide the American people and the Congress with a public assessment of who ordered the killing".

Asked why Trump "continues to tiptoe" around bin Salman's alleged involvement in the murder, Congressman Eric Swalwell, a Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, suggested that the US president may have "conflicting financial interests" with the Saudis.

"And we're going to see in this new Congress his tax returns - not because we [have a] voyeuristic interest in where he is invested but because, for our national security, we need to know where he has conflicts of interest so that we can interdict or intervene," Swalwell told NPR.

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