President Donald Trump says he is not interested in hearing the audio that allegedly depicts the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and doubted whether he’ll ever know if the Saudi crown prince lied to him.
“We have the tape. I don’t want to hear the tape. No reason for me to hear the tape,” Trump said on Fox News Sunday. “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. ... It was very violent, very vicious, and terrible.”
Trump again appeared hesitant to directly blame Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the murder of Khashoggi, who was a legal U.S. resident and a Washington Post columnist. According to reports, the CIA has concluded that the crown prince ordered the killing.
He pointed to U.S. sanctions against 17 Saudi nationals involved in the killing as evidence that his administration was taking action, but those sanctions did not directly assign responsibility and they essentially backed up the Saudis’ explanation for the murder—one which exculpates the crown prince.
“He told me that he had nothing to do with it. He told me that, I would say five times at different points, as recently as a few days ago,” Trump said of his conversations with the crown prince.
The president has defended U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia in light of the diplomatic row and has praised the kingdom as an important ally for U.S. efforts to push back against Iran in the region, as some lawmakers caution Trump over his posture.
The top prosecutor in Riyadh charged 11 Saudis last week in connection with the murder of Khashoggi, and five of them could face the death penalty. Top lawmakers say those individuals are essentially taking the fall for the crown prince, whom they believe bears primary responsibility.
“Everything points to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, MbS, ordering @washingtonpost journalist Jamal #Khashoggi’s killing,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote on Twitter. “The Trump administration should make a credible determination of responsibility before MbS executes the men who apparently carried out his orders.”
When asked whether he was lied to, Trump said: “Who can really know? He’s got many people now who say he had no knowledge.”