NEW YORK, New York—In his first public comments Monday on the brutal murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Arabian operatives—allegedly on orders of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman—senior presidential adviser Jared Kushner repeatedly dodged and weaved.
“With regards to the situation in Saudi Arabia, I’d say that right now as an administration we’re more in the fact-finding phase,” Donald Trump’s son-in-law said at the CNN Citizen conference when interviewer Van Jones asked him if he believed the Saudis’ widely derided official account that the 60-year-old Khashoggi, a critic of the crown prince, died on October 2 after a fist-fight with “rogue” operatives at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
“We’re obviously getting as many facts as we can from different places, and then we’ll determine which facts are credible.”
Kushner—who, in his oversight of American policy in the Middle East peace process, has made an effort to befriend the Saudi crown prince known as “MBS”—added that the Trump White House will determine what facts are credible, “and after that we’ll make a determination of what we deem to be credible, then we’ll determine what actions we should take.”
He gave essentially the same answer when Jones asked him if he trusted the Saudis to tell the truth.
Kushner, who did not mention Khashoggi by name, and referred to his murder as “what seems to be a terrible situation,” stressed the importance of the United States’ strategic alliance with the oil-rich desert kingdom.
“We have to be able to work with our allies,” he said. “Saudi Arabia… has been a very strong ally in terms of pushing back against Iran’s aggression” and terrorism, calling the Middle East a “very rough place for a very long time.”
After Kushner left the stage, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi—who hopes to be elected to her former job as speaker if the Democrats sweep into the majority in two weeks—said the Trump administration’s wait-and-see stance “makes us look kind of silly” to the world at large.
“They keep saying, well, we have to do this because of Iran,” added Pelosi, who expressed skepticism that the crown prince was not involved in the plans to kill Khashoggi. “Saudi Arabia has its own reasons has its own reasons to be contending with Iran. It has nothing to do with President Trump, but President Trump has his own reasons to be with Saudi Arabia.”
She suggested that Trump has financial reasons to be in league with Saudi Arabia, including aspirations to build Trump hotels there.
“Follow the money,” she said.
Pelosi also suggested that Kushner’s friend MBS should step down from his position as crown prince.
“What’s so important about this prince? It’s a big family. They have lots of princes.”
Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, another participant in CNN’s Citizen conference, shared Pelosi’s alarm concerning Trump’s apparent willingness to give the Saudis a pass.
“I think it’s difficult to fathom that the crown prince didn’t know what was going on,” Flake said in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper. “The more that comes out, the more it points right in that direction.”
Adding that “none of us want to” disrupt the strategic U.S.-Saudi relationship, Flake, however, said: “You have to have some values. And speaking out against a regime that murdered a journalist—that ought to be an easy call. That’s a layup.”
Kushner, for his part, declined to comment when Jones asked him what advice he has given to the president regarding the controversy.
But he said he urged MBS—who is spearheading the Saudi monarchy’s investigation of a crime in which he is a prime suspect—to be transparent.
“How did he respond to that counsel?” Jones asked.
“We’ll see,” Kushner answered.