Donald Trump

‘It’s a terrible tape’: Trump says he won’t listen to recording of Saudi journalist’s murder

  • ‘I know everything that went on in the tape without having to hear it,’ says US president, who is under pressure to punish ally Saudi Arabia over the killing
PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 November, 2018, 12:05am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 November, 2018, 12:05am

US President Donald Trump said he would not listen to a recording of the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi even as an imminent report on the slaying threatens to put him in a diplomatic bind: how to admonish Riyadh for the slaying yet maintain strong ties with a close ally.

Trump, in an interview that aired on Sunday, made clear the audio recording, supplied by the Turkish government, would not change his decision on how to respond to the October 2 killing, which US intelligence agencies have concluded was ordered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

“Because it’s a suffering tape, it’s a terrible tape. I’ve been fully briefed on it, there’s no reason for me to hear it,” Trump said in the interview with Fox News Sunday. “I know everything that went on in the tape without having to hear it.”

Reporters asked Trump, as he toured fire damage in California on Saturday, about the death of Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post and critic of the Saudi royal family. Saudi Arabia’s top diplomat has said the crown prince had “absolutely” nothing to do with it.

“We’ll be having a very full report over the next two days, probably Monday or Tuesday,” Trump said. That will include “who did it”, he said.

It was not clear whether the findings of the report would be made public.

Trump told Fox News Sunday that Crown Prince Mohammed had repeatedly denied being involved in the killing inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The president declined to say whether evidence the crown prince was involved would alter relations with Riyadh.

“Well, will anybody really know?” Trump said. “At the same time, we do have an ally, and I want to stick with an ally that in many ways has been very good.”

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, said the crown prince has been a “wrecking ball” in the relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia.

“I hate to say that because I had a lot of hope for him being the reformer that Saudi Arabia needs, but that ship has sailed as far as Lindsey Graham’s concerned,” Graham told NBC’s Meet the Press. “I have no intention of working with him ever again.”

Intelligence officials have been providing information to Trump about the death for weeks and he was briefed again by phone on Saturday by CIA Director Gina Haspel and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as he flew to California. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders provided no details of his call but said the president has confidence in the CIA.

“The United States government is determined to hold all those responsible for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi accountable,” the State Department said in a statement. “Recent reports indicating that the US government has made a final conclusion are inaccurate. There remain numerous unanswered questions with respect to the murder of Mr Khashoggi.”

The statement added: “The US government has taken decisive measures against the individuals responsible, including visa and sanctions actions. We will continue to explore additional measures … while maintaining the important strategic relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia.”

Before his call on Air Force One, Trump told reporters that when it came to the crown prince, “We were told that he did not play a role. We’re going to have to find out what they have to say.” That echoed remarks by national security adviser John Bolton, who said last week that people who have listened to the recording of the killing do not think it implicates the crown prince.

Trump has called the killing a botched operation and “the cover-up was one of the worst cover-ups in the history of cover-ups”.

But he has resisted calls to cut off arms sales to the kingdom and has been reluctant to antagonise the Saudi rulers. Trump considers the Saudis vital allies in his Mideast agenda.

But members of Congress are pushing Trump for a tougher response to the killing.