The CIA has reportedly concluded that Prince Mohammed ordered the killing. Trump noted that he has denied any knowledge of it, and stated that in any case, the relationship is too valuable to sacrifice over the episode. “It could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event — maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” Trump said in a statement.
The U.S. last week imposed sanctions on 17 people said to be involved in the crime, including a top adviser to Prince Mohammed. A bipartisan group on Capitol Hill has proposed legislation that would impose broader sanctions, including potentially against Prince Mohammed.
Trump’s lengthy statement emphasized America’s strong ties with the Saudi government, its importance as an oil producer, its role as a bulwark against Iran, and its willingness to purchase U.S.-made military equipment.
“Representatives of Saudi Arabia say that Jamal Khashoggi was an ‘enemy of the state’ and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but my decision is in no way based on that — this is an unacceptable and horrible crime,” Trump said.
Trump said the intelligence agencies continue to assess the situation, but that the truth may never be known.
“In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” he said. “I understand there are members of Congress who, for political or other reasons, would like to go in a different direction — and they are free to do so. I will consider whatever ideas are presented to me, but only if they are consistent with the absolute security and safety of America.”
The Washington Post, where Khashoggi contributed columns critical of the Saudi government, slammed Trump’s remarks in a statement from publisher and CEO Fred Ryan.
“President Trump’s response to the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is a betrayal of long-established American values of respect for human rights and the expectation of trust and honesty in our strategic relationships. He is placing personal relationships and commercial interests above American interests in his desire to continue to do business as usual with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.”
Ryan called on Trump to disclose any evidence that would contradict the CIA’s conclusion that Prince Mohammed is responsible for the killing.
“President Trump is correct in saying the world is a very dangerous place. His surrender to this state-ordered murder will only make it more so. An innocent man, brutally slain, deserves better, as does the cause of truth and justice and human rights. In this failure of leadership from President Trump, it now falls to Congress to stand up for America’s true values and lasting interests.”
Prince Mohammed chairs the Saudi Public Investment Fund, a sovereign wealth fund with significant investments in the U.S. tech and media sectors. (The PIF is also an investor in Penske Media Corporation, the parent company of Variety.) WME took steps in October to withdraw from its investment deal with the fund following Khashoggi’s death.