Continuing his break with the U.S. intelligence community, U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday dismissed as “feelings” the CIA’s assessment that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had ordered the killing of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Kashoggi last month at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
“They didn’t conclude,” Trump told reporters at his Florida resort, taking a break for the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday. “I am sorry. No, they didn’t conclude. They did not come to a conclusion. They have feelings certain ways. They have not concluded, I don’t know if anyone’s going to be able to conclude the crown prince did it.”
Trump’s remarks echoed his controversial statement Tuesday saying of the conclusion bin Salman ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, “maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!”
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Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and columnist for The Washington Post, went missing after entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.
After initially saying he had left the consulate alive, weeks later the Saudi administration admitted he was killed there, blaming a rogue group of Saudi operatives.
Trump told reporters the Saudi crown prince denies the killing “vehemently.”
“His father denies it, the king [Salman], vehemently. The CIA doesn’t say they did it, they do point out certain things and in pointing out those things you can conclude that maybe he did or maybe he didn’t,” said the president.
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In his Tuesday statement, Trump defended relations with Saudi Arabia despite the killing and said the U.S. may “never know all of the facts” and the country will continue its relations with Saudi Arabia in order to pursue American interests.
Prominent senators including Republican Sen. Bob Corker and Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, lashed out at Trump for his statement, saying they disagree with his decision not to punish Saudi Arabia over the Khashoggi killing.
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Meanwhile, Prince Mohammed embarked on Nov. 22 on a regional tour starting with the United Arab Emirates, his first official trip abroad since Khashoggi’s murder tipped the kingdom into crisis.
Prince Mohammed will visit a “number of brotherly” Arab states at the request of his father, King Salman, the royal court said in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency, without naming the countries.
Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed welcomed him on his first stop in the UAE, a close ally that is part of a Saudi-led coalition battling Iran-aligned Huthi rebels in Yemen, according to the Emirati state news agency WAM.