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Trump says final report on Khashoggi killing expected in a few days

NBC News reported Friday that the CIA has concluded Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi's killing, according to a person briefed on the CIA’s assessment.
Image: President Trump Arrives At The White House After Touring The Wildfires In California
President Donald Trump walks off Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House returning from California early on Sunday.Pool / Getty Images
/ Source: Reuters

President Donald Trump said Saturday that his administration will get a full report on the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi early next week.

NBC News reported Friday that the CIA has concluded Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi's killing, according to a person briefed on the CIA’s assessment.

Trump was touring fire-ravaged California when he told reporters that he had spoken with CIA director Gina Haspel and his administration will get a full report on Khashoggi's death Monday or Tuesday.

"It's a horrible thing that took place," Trump said. "The killing of a journalist. Very, very bad situation... It should have never happened."

Asked if the CIA had assessed whether the crown prince — Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler — was behind the killing, Trump said, "They have not assessed anything yet. It's too early. That was a very premature report."

The president added that the report coming early next week is expected to shed more light on "what we think the overall impact was, who caused it and who did it."

“In the meantime," Trump continued, "we are doing things to some people that we know for a fact were involved and we’re being very tough on a lot of people.”

The U.S. announced sanctions against 17 Saudi Arabian officials over Khashoggi's killing on Thursday.

The State Department on Saturday also said the U.S. government has not made a final conclusion on who was involved in the killing.

“Recent reports indicating that the U.S. government has made a final conclusion are inaccurate,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement. “There remain numerous unanswered questions with respect to the murder of Mr. Khashoggi.”

The statement added: "We will continue to explore additional measures to hold those accountable who planned, led and were connected to the murder. And, we will do that while maintaining the important strategic relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia."

Khashoggi's killing resulted in worldwide criticism and condemnation of the kingdom, presenting Trump with a difficult dilemma — ensuring those who are responsible are punished while trying to maintain strong ties with its important trading partner and ally in the Middle East.

Trump has called the killing a botched operation that was carried out very poorly and has said "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 antagonize the Saudi rulers. Trump considers the Saudis vital allies in his Mideast agenda.

Before leaving on his trip to California on Saturday, Trump told reporters Saudi Arabia was "a truly spectacular ally in terms of jobs and economic development," but the CIA's assessment could add more pressure on Trump to further punish Saudi Arabia.

The Washington Post, citing people familiar with the matter, first reported Friday the CIA's assessment of Khashoggi's death, stating that the agency made its conclusion with "high confidence." NBC News was unable to confirm the agency's description of its confidence level.

The Saudi Embassy in Washington said in a statement, "The claims in this purported assessment are false. We have and continue to hear various theories without seeing the primary basis for these speculations."

The Saudis have repeatedly denied that crown prince was in any way involved in Khashoggi's killing, calling the journalist's death a "rogue operation" in which individuals exceeded their authority.

NBC News reported previously that the U.S. intelligence community believes it's inconceivable that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman could have had no connection to Khashoggi’s death.

Khashoggi, a U.S. resident from Saudi Arabia, was a Washington Post opinion contributor critical of the crown prince's regime. He was killed after he entered the Saudi consulate in Turkey's capital Istanbul on Oct. 2.

Turkish sources have said previously that authorities have an audio recording purportedly documenting his murder. Last week, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the recording was given to the United States and a number of other countries. U.S. national security adviser John Bolton said earlier this week that people who have listened to an audio recording of the killing do not think it implicates the crown prince.

In an interview with Fox News which aired on Sunday, Trump said he had been briefed on the recording but hasn't listened to it.

"I don't want to hear the tape," Trump said. "It's a suffering tape. I've been briefed on the tape. It was very vicious and terrible."

The sanctions the U.S. announced on Thursday came shortly after Saudi Arabia's top prosecutor recommended the death penalty for five suspects in the murder of the former regime insider. Twenty-one suspects had been arrested in connection with the case, of which 11 were charged with his killing.

According to the prosecutor, a plot to kill Khashoggi was hatched on Sept. 29 — three days before the journalist’s disappearance — for the team to kill Khashoggi if negotiators failed to persuade him to return home.

The prosecutor said the loyalist-turned-dissident was killed by a lethal injection of narcotics. He said that the injection was administered after a quarrel broke out and Khashoggi was restrained.

His killers then dismembered the body and removed it from the consulate, he added.

Khashoggi's remains have not been found.