White House national security adviser John Bolton dismissed questions on Tuesday about whether he has listened to a tape that captured part of the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, saying he doesn’t speak Arabic and would thus gain nothing from hearing the audio.
President Donald Trump has previously said that he too declined to listen to the recording, calling it “a suffering tape” and “terrible.”
“No, I haven’t listened to it. Why do you think I should? What do you think I’ll learn from it?” Bolton said during a briefing at the White House.
Bolton added that he was able to gain enough information by reading a transcript of the audio.
“I can read a transcript, too. I’m trying to make a point to everyone that says why don’t up listen to the tape, unless you speak Arabic, what are you going to get from it?” he said.
In an interview released earlier this month, Trump told Fox News’ Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday” that he doesn’t have any interest in hearing the tape, which contains audio of the killing of Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in early October.
“Have you, one, either heard the tape yourself or been briefed on it, and if so, to your mind what does it show?” Wallace asked Trump.
“We have the tape, I don’t want to hear the tape, no reason for me to hear the tape,” Trump replied.
“Why don’t you want to hear it, sir?”
“Because it’s a suffering tape, it’s a terrible tape,” Trump said. “I’ve been fully briefed on it. There’s no reason for me to hear it. In fact I said to the people ‘should I?’ They said, ‘You really shouldn’t. There’s no reason.’ I know exactly – I know everything that went on in the tape without having to hear it.”
“It was very violent, very vicious and terrible,” Trump added.
Trump has rankled top lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in recent weeks by signaling he will not take strong action against Saudi Arabia or its crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, for the murder and dismemberment of Khashoggi.
The President has also raised doubts about the CIA’s assessment connecting the regime to the murder.
A US official told CNN last week that there is still is no smoking gun implicating the crown prince directly and the intelligence assessment is ongoing. Intelligence officials have said the CIA presented the President with a confidence-based assessment given the facts of the situation.
One US intelligence official acknowledged to CNN last week that Trump’s public rejection of the CIA’s assessment 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 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.
Congressional lawmakers have continued to push for answers from the administration despite the White House’s public response.
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker warned Monday that there will be “a lot happening” in Congress on Saudi Arabia, including a vote as soon as this week calling for an end to US involvement in Yemen, as he renewed demands for CIA Director Gina Haspel to brief senators this week about Khashoggi’s murder.
Bolton denied reports that the White House is blocking Haspel from briefing senators.
“Certainly not,” Bolton said when asked about the reports.
Corker said Tuesday that it is still possible Haspel could attend the briefing, but he has no new information to indicate she will.
But the Tennessee Republican, who is retiring at the end of his term in January, suggested that the planned Wednesday briefing from Mattis and Pompeo alone would not be sufficient in answering the growing number of questions about Khashoggi’s death. Questions still remain over how strongly Congress should respond in attempting to punish the Saudi crown prince over the murder.
CNN’s Elizabeth Landers, Kevin Liptak, Nicole Gaouette, Manu Raju and Michelle Kosinski contributed reporting