The top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee on Friday accused President Donald Trump of lying about the CIA’s report that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman personally ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Trump said Thursday that the CIA “did not come to a conclusion” about the crown prince’s involvement in the murder.
“They have feelings certain ways, but they didn’t – I have the report,” Trump said.
When asked if the President was lying about the CIA’s conclusion, Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Jack Reed said, “Yes. The CIA concluded that the crown prince of Saudi Arabia was directly involved in the assassination of Khashoggi.”
Khashoggi, a Saudi Arabian journalist and US resident, was killed in a Saudi consulate in Istanbul last month. He was a frequent critic of the Saudi Arabian government.
“They did it, as has been reported to the press, with high confidence, which is the highest level of accuracy that they will vouch for,” Reed said. “It’s based on facts, it’s based on analysis. The notion that they didn’t reach a conclusion is just unsubstantiated. The CIA has made that clear.”
A senior US official and a source familiar with the matter told CNN that the CIA concluded last week that the crown prince personally ordered Khashoggi’s killing. According to The Washington Post, which first reported on the CIA’s assessment, US officials have high confidence in the report. The Saudi government has steadfastly denied the ruler was involved.
A CIA official told CNN Friday that there is still is no smoking gun implicating the crown prince directly and the intelligence assessment is ongoing. As part of that process, the CIA is analyzing relevant intelligence within the context of what is already known about the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the official said.
Intelligence officials have said the CIA presented the President with a confidence-based assessment given the facts of the situation.
Trump, who has emphasized US arms deals with Saudi Arabia as a key reason for maintaining the US alliance, praised the nation Thursday as a “strong ally” and said, “I don’t know if anyone’s going to be able to conclude that the crown prince did it.”
“But whether he did or whether he didn’t, he denies it vehemently,” Trump said.
“The CIA doesn’t say they did it,” Trump said. “They said he might have done it – that’s a big difference.”
“I hate the crime,” the President said, inexplicably adding, “The crown prince hates it more than I do.”
A US intelligence official acknowledged that Trump’s statement earlier in the week – in which he signaled he would not take strong action against Saudi Arabia or the crown prince – has irked some members of the clandestine community but noted that the CIA provided the White House with an assessment based on the facts available, and if the President is skeptical or doesn’t believe certain pieces of information, then that is his right.
“The White House might not like what’s brought forward but ultimately what we provide is based on facts and it is up to the President to believe it or not,” the official said, adding that the role of the intelligence community is to offer a confidence-based assessment given the facts available, not a conclusive determination.
A senior administration official told CNN that an intelligence report about the murder reportedly sent to Trump on Tuesday and 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 bin Salman’s inner circle, the fact that they don’t make a final conclusion gives the White House an out.
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker told CNN earlier this week that top Trump administration officials need to brief the full Senate as soon as next week about the circumstances behind Khashoggi’s killing before senators decide what actions to take against Saudi Arabia.