Just days after the CIA leaked to the Washington Post its determination that the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, was directly involved with the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, President Donald Trump asked rhetorically in an interview that aired on Sunday "will anybody really know?" who was behind the murder and that he had no reason to listen to the recording of the assassination given over by the Turkish government.
"Because 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," Trump said in the interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday. "I know everything that went on in the tape without having to hear it."
Trump says he "doesn't want to hear the tape" of Khasoggi's murder b/c "it's a suffering tape. It's a terrible tape. I've been fully briefed on it"— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) November 18, 2018
He adds he's not sure if Mohammed bin Salman lied to him because "he told me he had nothing to do w/it...will anybody really know?" pic.twitter.com/xjo239IIdh
It's strange, however, because while the interview with Fox was filmed on Friday, Trump told reporters outside the White House on Saturday morning, just before leaving for a trip to visit fire damage in California, "we haven't been briefed yet" about the Khashoggi murder.
Trump said "we haven't been briefed yet" on the CIA's Khashoggi findings.— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) November 17, 2018
WaPo says that's not true. Trump had already been shown evidence of MBS's alleged involvement and privately remains skeptical, aides say. He has tried to avoid pinning blame on MBS. https://t.co/g6Kri34a2p
On Thursday, Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeirs said that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had "absolutely nothing to do" with Khashoggi, and in Trump's interview with Fox the president said the prince himself directly denied being involved on multiple occasions.
"He told me that he had nothing to do with it," the president said of the prince. "He told me that—I would say maybe five times at different points." He also added, "But I can say this, he's got many people now that say he had no knowledge."
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So, "Is Trump defending the Saudi crown prince after a CIA assessment on the Khashoggi killing?" Seems like a very good and reasonable question:
Is Trump defending the Saudi crown prince after a CIA assessment on the Khashoggi killing? pic.twitter.com/vHj9tV5K94— TRT World (@trtworld) November 18, 2018
Writing on Saturday, Middle East historian Juan Cole speculated about who, exactly, the CIA might be targeting with its story at the Washington Post — one that appears to reveal that the agency's assessment, now expected on Tuesday, will conflict with what the president has been stating publicly. According to Cole:
Trump had asked for the report, but it is unlikely that he wanted it made public. The CIA is deliberately leaking it. Since the agency is aware that Mohammed Bin Salman is teflon inside Saudi Arabia, it seems probable that the target of the leak is in the US. The member of the administration closest to MBS is Jared Kushner, though Trump himself has admitted that he wants the sale of US arms to MBS more than he wants Khashoggi’s killer brought to justice. The CIA may be attempting to discredit Kushner and to detach Trump from his alliance with the crown prince.
The Saudi government has attempted to whitewash the murder. First it denied the killing. Then it blamed low-level rogue intelligence agents. Then it sentenced the latter to death so as to make sure they do not talk. The Saudis deny that Mohammed Bin Salman ordered that Khashoggi be whacked, which is laughable, since no one would dare do such a thing without his orders. It is an absolute monarchy, after all.
Meanwhile, human rights activist Medea Benjamin, said on Twitter, "Even CIA says MBS behind murder of #JamalKhashoggi but Trump covers his ears." Then added: "Trump sees no evil, hears no evil when it comes to evil Saudi crown prince #MBS, who ordered murder of [Khashoggi]."
Correction: Due to a reporting mistake and editorial error, an earlier version of this story misquoted Trump by saying he stated in his Fox News interview that the Crown Prince was "absolutely" not involved in the Khashoggi murder. That word was used by the Saudi foreign minister, however, not the U.S. president. This error was compounded by being featured in the original headline of this article, which has now also been changed. Common Dreams, which takes factual accuracy deeply serious, regrets this layered and egregious mistake.