Jim Lo Scalzo-Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump said late Saturday that it’s “too early” to say whether Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman was behind the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, and described multiple news reports saying the CIA has concluded the crown prince was directly involved as “premature.”
The president said that the U.S. government will complete a “full report” by Tuesday.
He denied reports saying that the CIA has concluded that the crown prince, known as MBS, ordered the killing.
“They haven’t accessed anything yet — it’s too early,” Trump said. “That was a very premature report.”
“But that’s possible,” he added. “We’re gonna see.”
The president went on to say without further explanation that “in the meantime we are doing things to some people who we know for a fact were involved, and we’re going to be very tough on a lot pf people.”
The comments came as Trump toured the damage from wildfires that devastated Malibu, California, after receiving an update on the Khashoggi investigation from CIA Director Gina Haspel and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo aboard Air Force One.
Trump’s comments come in the wake of several media outlets’ reports Friday that CIA officials said they were highly confident that 15 Saudi agents flew to Istanbul in government aircraft at the orders of Salman to kill Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate.
The Washington Post was the first news company to report on the alleged ties to the prince.
Earlier on Saturday, before heading to California, Trump spoke to reporters about the Khashoggi murder.
“As of this moment, we were told he had not played a role,” the president added, referring to the Saudi prince. “We’re going to see what they have to say.”
On Saturday afternoon, a spokeswoman for the State Department said the Trump administration is determined to hold Khashoggi’s killers accountable, but had not made a “final conclusion” on his death.
Recent reports indicating that the U.S. government has made a final conclusion are inaccurate. There remain numerous unanswered questions with respect to the murder of Mr. Khashoggi,” said Heather Nauert, the department spokeswoman. “The State Department will continue to seek all relevant facts.”
She added that the U.S. will continue to investigate the murder while “maintaining the important strategic relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia.”
Khashoggi was killed Oct. 2 in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he went to pick up documents that he needed to marry his fiancee, who lives in the Turkish city.
An intercepted phone call between Khashoggi and the Saudi prince’s brother, Khalid bin Salman, was among the evidence that helped the CIA arrive at its conclusion, the Post reported.
In the call, Khalid bin Salman, who is the Saudi ambassador to the United States, told Khashoggi that he should go to Istanbul for the documents and assured him that it would be safe to do so, the paper reported.
Though it’s unclear if Khalid bin Salman was involved in the plan, it was Mohammed bin Salman who told him to make the call, The Post reported, citing people familiar with the matter who could only speak on the condition of anonymity.
Fatimah Baeshen, a spokeswoman for the Saudi embassy in Washington, D.C., denied the allegations that Khalid bin Salman spoke about going to Turkey and called the CIA assessment “false,” according to the Post.
The Post article was published the same day as a funeral service for the slain journalist at Istanbul’s Fatih Mosque, more than a month after he was killed on Oct. 2.
Earlier this week, the Trump administration sanctioned 17 Saudi officials for their alleged involvement in the killing of Khashoggi, who was a Washington Post columnist.
Vice President Mike Pence declined to comment on “classified information” early Saturday morning during a trip to Papua New Guinea, but also did not seek to refute the reporting of the CIA’s conclusions.
The vice president did, however, condemn the murder and said: “We are going to follow the facts.”
“The murder of Jamal Khashoggi was an atrocity. It was also an affront to a free and independent press and the United States is determined to hold all of those accountable who are responsible for that murder,” Pence said.
He also noted that the U.S. wants to find a way to preserve a “strong and historic partnership” with Saudi Arabia.
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