Published 10:54 AM EDT Oct 21, 2018
President Donald Trump accused the Saudis of lying about the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside their Turkish consulate but defended the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
"Obviously there's been deception and there's been lies," Trump told The Washington Post. "Their stories are all over the place."
But Trump lauded Mohammed as a "strong person" who was able to control Saudi Arabia's disparate factions and was key to U.S.-Saudi economic ties. Trump also told the Post in an interview Saturday that he would prefer that the 33-year-old prince remain at the political helm of his nation.
Trump said he has seen no evidence to indicate the prince knew Khashoggi was going to be killed or ordered the killing.
"Nobody has told me he's responsible. Nobody has told me he's not responsible. We haven't reached that point. I haven't heard either way," Trump said. "There is a possibility he found out about it afterward. It could be something in the building went badly awry. It could be when that's he found about it. He could have known they were bringing him back to Saudi Arabia."
Khashoggi, a Saudi and contributor for the Post, had drawn the ire of his government for repeated criticisms of the prince, of King Salman, and of Saudi involvement in the war in Yemen.
Khashoggi disappeared Oct. 2 after entering the consulate in Istanbul to obtain documents in preparation for his marriage. Video footage showed Khashoggi entering, but no video ever showed him leaving.
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For weeks Saudi Arabia denied any knowledge of Khashoggi's fate, saying he had left the consulate shortly after entering.
The disappearance and subsequent reports that Khashoggi had been tortured and killed drew international outrage. On Friday, the Saudis relented, saying Khashoggi died after a fight that broke out during his interrogation. The regime said 18 people had been arrested in the incident.
The explanation did little to quiet international outrage. Even leading Senate Republicans, including Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker and Trump supporter Lindsey Graham, have expressed skepticism and are calling for stiff sanctions.
"It’s hard to find this latest 'explanation' as credible," said Graham, who previously had said the United States should "sanction the hell out of Saudi Arabia" until the prince is ousted from power.
Trump has firmly rejected calls to block a $110 billion arms sale, saying the Saudis would just make the purchase from Russia or China.
“With that being said, something will take place,” Trump told the Post.