US President Donald Trump says he believes dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is dead, and that the consequences should be severe for those who carried out the assassination.
In an interview with reporters from The New York Times in the White House on Thursday, Trump stopped short of saying Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s murder, but he acknowledged that the allegations of the Saudi involvement in the atrocity had created a serious foreign policy crisis for his presidency.
“This one has caught the imagination of the world, unfortunately,” Trump told the reporters. “It’s not a positive. Not a positive.”
“Unless the miracle of all miracles happens, I would acknowledge that he’s dead,” Trump said. “That’s based on everything — intelligence coming from every side.”
A short time later, Trump told reporters at Andrews Air Force Base when asked if Khashoggi was dead, “It certainly looks that way to me. It’s very sad.”
Khashoggi, who was also a US green card holder, entered the Saudi mission on October 2 in order to obtain the necessary paperwork for marrying his fiancée. That was the last time he was seen.
According to The Washington Post, to which Khashoggi was a contributor, US intelligence intercepts already prove that he was killed and dismembered by Saudi agents in a hit job directly ordered by bin Salman.
Saudi may blame intelligence official for murder
The Saudi rulers are weighing blaming a top intelligence official close to the crown prince for the assassination, three people with knowledge of the Saudi plan said Thursday, according to The New York Times.
The blame will be assigned to General Ahmed al-Assiri, a high-ranking adviser to the crown prince, but American intelligence agencies are increasingly convinced that bin Salman was behind Khashoggi’s murder.
Turkish officials say they are in possession of audio and video recordings that prove the murder and incriminate Saudi diplomats.
First leaked details of the audio recordings picture a gruesome scene where Khashoggi is tortured, killed and dismembered by a Saudi assassination squad in cold blood.
On Wednesday, former CIA Director John Brennan said the United States government is working with Saudi Arabia to “concoct a story” about the fate of Khashoggi.
Speaking to MSNBC, Brennan said the Saudi Crown Prince and the White House knew what happened to Khashoggi.
“It also seems now we’re in this surreal and morally horrific situation in which the White House and the Saudis seem to be trying to sort of figure out what story they can come up with that they can both have plausibility for Mohammad bin Salman,” said Brennan.
The former spymaster said Washington and Riyadh might be looking for scapegoats inside Saudi Arabia but no matter what they do to make it look like MBS had nothing to do with the incident, their story “is going to fall apart.”
Brennan also called on the CIA and other US intelligence agencies to hand in their evidence to Congress so that lawmakers could scrutinise the White House over its role in the alleged cover-up.