Published 9:23 PM EDT Oct 15, 2018
WASHINGTON – The Saudi Arabian government is preparing a report that would assert Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S. resident, was killed during an interrogation that went awry, according to CNN and other media outlets.
Citing unnamed sources, CNN reported that the Saudis planned to say the operation was conducted “without clearance” from the ruling royal family – an effort to shield Saudi’s king, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The New York Times similarly reported that the Saudis were planning to blame an overzealous intelligence official for Khashoggi’s death. It reported that an unnamed source familiar with the plans said Prince Mohammed had approved an interrogation or rendition of Mr. Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia. But, the source told The Times, the Saudi intelligence official was tragically incompetent as he eagerly sought to prove himself in secretive operations.
NBC News, citing three anonymous sources, reported the Saudis were discussing a way to give the prince plausible deniability to say he didn’t order the killing and had no knowledge of it.
President Donald Trump, on a trip to survey hurricane damage, said he had heard the media reports, “but nobody knows if it’s an official report. So far, it’s just a rumor of a report coming out.”
A White House spokesman did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the reports. And an official with the embassy of Saudi Arabia did not respond to a request for comment.
Earlier Monday, President Donald Trump suggested that “rogue killers’ may have been involved in the disappearance of Khashoggi.
Speaking to reporters before departing for Florida, Trump said he had spoken to the King of Saudi Arabia and that he had ”firmly denied” any involvement with Khashoggi’s disappearance or alleged murder. Trump seemed to accept the king’s denials and even floated a theory that “rogue killers” could have been involved.
Trump said the king "didn’t really know" what happened to Khashoggi and then added: "I don’t wanna get into his mind. But it sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers, who knows."
Critics slammed Trump's comments.
"The notion that someone other than the Saudi regime sanctioned this killing is frankly ridiculous," said Aaron David Miller, director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a Washington think tank.
Others said Trump was offering appeasement and credence to a ruthless regime.
“It’s an unambiguous green light to the world's despots & dictators that they can exact justice however they see fit, wherever they see fit," tweeted Ned Price, a former CIA analyst who left the agency in 2017 to protest what he called the Trump administration's "disregard" for the U.S. intelligence community.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said if the Saudis offer that as an explanation, it would not fly with members of Congress.
“What kind of interrogation puts the person at risk for being murdered?" Shaheen told USA TODAY. "That is just not credible to suggest that that’s an answer to what happened here.”
In a series of tweets on Monday, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., suggested Trump was reluctant to press the Saudi’s on the missing journalist because of his longstanding business relationship with the Saudis before he entered the White House.
“Trump giving Saudis a pass on Khashoggi murder—maybe because he continues to benefit from Saudi rentals, hotel bookings & other payments to the Trump Org?” tweeted Blumenthal, who recounted Trump’s remarks during the presidential campaign about how much he liked doing business with Saudi Arabia.
“Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much,” said in 2015 at Trump Tower.
Khashoggi vanished more than a week ago in Istanbul after he entered Saudi Arabia’s consulate there for some routine paperwork.
Turkish officials allege Khashoggi, who wrote critically of the Saudi regime, was killed in the compound. They reportedly have audio and video to support their allegations. Saudi officials say he left the building unharmed, but they have not produced any evidence to back their claim.
Turkish authorities reportedly told Al Jazeera on Monday that they had discovered evidence supporting their allegations that Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, citing a source at the Attorney’s General’s Office in Turkey. The outlet also reported that prosecutors found evidence of “tampering.”