A CNBC interview with the Saudi foreign minister indicated that officials in Saudi Arabia heard President Donald Trump's Tuesday message about the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi loud and clear: that the Trump administration has no interest in holding the Saudis accountable for their admitted murder of the writer and that maintaining his lucrative relationship relationship with the kingdom is Trump's priority—not protecting human rights, journalists, or other niceties.
Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told CNBC Wednesday that while Khashoggi's killing was a "crime," it was simply an "unfortunate accident" and "an operation that went wrong"—and pointed directly to Trump's fact-free statement to acquit Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS), who the CIA reportedly has determined ordered of ordering the killing after an in-depth investigation.
On Tuesday, Trump downplayed the CIA's conclusions and said that the brutal murder "is what it is" and that "we may never know all the facts." That, apparently, was all the foreign minister needed.
"We have the president of the United States saying the reports of the CIA report are not accurate," al-Jubier said.
Despite the CIA's findings—which one State Department official said made MbS's involvement "blindingly obvious"—Trump said vaguely on Tuesday of the crown prince, "maybe he did and maybe he didn't" have knowledge of Khashoggi's murder. Regardless of the answer, the president said, the U.S. must forge ahead with its relationship with the Saudis for the sake of "hundreds of billions of dollars in [weapons] order" and to keep "your oil prices" from going "through the roof."
The foreign minister's comments came two days after Middle East Eye reported details regarding Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's trip to Riyadh last month, shortly after Turkey revealed that Khashoggi had been killed and dismembered moments after he'd entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2.
According to a senior Saudi source who spoke with Middle East Eye, the Saudi government is "using a roadmap drawn up by the U.S. secretary of state" to shield themselves from the Khashoggi scandal.
"Mike Pompeo delivered the plan in person during a meeting with Saudi King Salman and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, last month in Riyadh, said the source, who is familiar with Pompeo's talks with the Saudi leaders," reported David Hearst and Daniel Hilton.
"The plan includes an option to pin the Saudi journalist's murder on an innocent member of the ruling al-Saud family in order to insulate those at the very top," the report continued.
Please don’t let this be real
Pompeo handed Riyadh a plan to shield MBS from Khashoggi fallout: Source | Middle East Eye https://t.co/ruHbHyQSGU
— Bradley P. Moss (@BradMossEsq) November 20, 2018
Al-Jubeir's statement pointing to Trump's defense of the kingdom provided the latest evidence that the Saudis continue to enjoy U.S. support even as advocates for the free press and other critics are demanding to know how the administration could callously disregard a credible report from an American intelligence agency on the killing of a U.S. resident, in order to protect its financial and diplomatic ties to the kingdom.