- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 18, 2018

Amid reports that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman personally ordered the killing of U.S. journalist Jamal Khashoggi, President Trump said Sunday he’s not interested in listening to an audio tape of the killing last month inside the Saudi Consulate in Turkey.

The president told “Fox News Sunday” that there’s “no reason” for him to listen to the recording, which Turkish officials provided to the Trump administration and European allies. Mr. Trump also cast doubt on a Friday report in The Washington Post that claimed Mohammed approved the Oct. 2 assassination, saying the U.S. will produce its own report this week that will offer clarity on a matter that’s strained the relationship between Washington and Riyadh and has spurred lawmakers of both parties to call for retaliation against the Saudi regime.

The audio tape of the death of Khashoggi, a U.S.-based journalist and Saudi citizen critical of the regime, is a key piece of evidence in determining exactly what happened inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. But the president said he has no intention of listening to it.

“We have the tape. I don’t want to hear the tape,” the president said in his interview with “Fox News Sunday,” which was recorded Friday and aired Sunday morning.

“There’s no reason for me to hear the tape because it’s a suffering tape, it’s a terrible tape. I’ve been briefed on it. There’s no reason for me to hear it,” he continued. “It was very violent, very vicious, and terrible.”

Mohammed has denied any knowledge of the killing and said he’ll punish those responsible for it.

But the CIA has determined that the crown prince did, in fact, know of the assassination plot, The Washington Post reported Friday night.

While traveling in California over the weekend, Mr. Trump dismissed that report and said the administration will release its own findings this week.

“They haven’t assessed anything yet. It’s too early,” he told reporters. “That was a very a premature report. But that’s possible — we’re going to see. But we’re going to have a report on Tuesday. And it’ll be very complete. In the meantime, we’re doing things to some people that we know for a fact were involved and we’re being very tough on a lot of people.”

As for the crown prince’s personal involvement in the killing, Mr. Trump said it will be difficult to prove.

“I don’t know. Who can really know?” the president said. “I can say this: He’s got many people who say he had no knowledge.”

“He told me he had nothing to do with it,” he continued. “He told me that, I would say maybe five times at different points, as recently as a few days ago.”

The White House already has imposed sanctions on 17 Saudis it accused of assisting in the Khashoggi slaying. The Pentagon also announced earlier this month it would stop refueling Saudi planes engaged in combat operations in Yemen — a signal the administration could be slowly pulling its support for Riyadh in the brutal, years-long conflict against Iran-backed Houthi rebels that has claimed the lives of thousands of civilians.

But top U.S. officials suggested more punishment is on the horizon.

“The murder of Jamal Khashoggi was an atrocity,” Vice President Mike Pence said over the weekend. “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.”

Lawmakers said Sunday it’s vital the U.S. try to find more evidence that the crown prince was personally involved.

“I think a smoking gun would certainly help,” Sen. Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, told ABC’s “This Week” program.

Others on Capitol Hill said the entire episode is a stark reminder that the U.S. has become too reliant on Saudi Arabia for stability and to counter Iran in the Middle East, and that the killing raises new questions about whether the autocratic Muslim kingdom can truly be considered an ally.

“It is certainly testing the proposition that the enemy of our enemy is our friend … our friends don’t murder journalists,” Rep. Adam Schiff, California Democrat and incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told ABC’s “This Week” program on Sunday. “We need to stop placing so much reliance in Saudi Arabia, and in particular on the person of the crown prince.”

The president, however, seemed to throw cold water on the idea that the incident will have any lasting effects on the bilateral relationship.

“We do have an ally and I want to stick with an ally that in many ways has been very good,” he said.

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