President Donald Trump signaled Tuesday that he will not take strong action against Saudi Arabia or its Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the death and dismemberment of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The White House has been struggling to square a widespread sense that the crown prince directed the killing with its desire for Saudi support for its foreign policy priorities and a need to manage close relationships between bin Salman and the Trump administration.
In an exclamation-mark laden statement subtitled “America First!” Trump said that “our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event — maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!”
“That being said,” Trump continued, “we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi. In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They have been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran.”
Trump is expected to receive a CIA assessment on Khashoggi’s murder later on Tuesday.
A senior administration official told CNN that the report, delivered in physical form, is an assessment of all the intelligence gathered so far, but will not present a final conclusion. That’s in keeping with intelligence community practice: agencies assign a confidence level to their findings because intelligence isn’t conclusive.
And though sources tell CNN that the CIA has assessed with high confidence that the prince directed Khashoggi’s murder, which was conducted by members of the prince’s inner circle, the fact that they don’t make a final conclusion gives the White House an out.
The report comes seven weeks after the father of four entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 to seek marriage documents.
This story is breaking and will be updated.
By Nicole Gaouette and Kaitlan Collins, CNN