President Trump strongly criticized Saudi Arabia’s explanation for the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi late Saturday, saying that “obviously there’s been deception, and there’s been lies.”
At the same time, Trump defended the oil-rich monarchy as an “incredible ally” and kept open the possibility that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman did not order Saudi agents to kill Khashoggi.
“Nobody has told me he’s responsible. Nobody has told me he’s not responsible. We haven’t reached that point . . . I would love if he wasn’t responsible,” Trump said in a phone interview with The Washington Post.
The kingdom’s claim that Khashoggi was killed after a fistfight escalated inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul was met with a torrent of international skepticism Saturday over how a team of Saudi agents could fly to Istanbul to meet Khashoggi and eventually kill him without the knowledge or consent of the crown prince, the de facto leader.
Trump had told reporters Friday that the Saudi explanation was credible, but U.S. officials said he has privately grimaced that his son-in-law Jared Kushner’s close relationship with the crown prince has become a liability and left the White House with no good options.
In the interview, Trump defended Kushner as doing a “very good job” but acknowledged that he and the crown prince, both in their 30s, are relatively young for the amount of power they wield.
“They’re two young guys. Jared doesn’t know him well or anything. They are just two young people. They are the same age. They like each other, I believe,” Trump said.
The Trump administration made its relationship with Mohammed a linchpin of its Middle East policy, relying on him to help strike a peace deal between the Palestinians and Israelis and unite the Arab world against Iran. Now, the Saudi government’s handling of the killing of a Washington Post contributing columnist has tarnished Mohammed’s image as the Trump administration is questioning the value of its high-profile partnership with him.