Khashoggi fallout
November 19, 2018

During an interview with Fox News that aired Sunday night, President Trump said he will not listen to the tape recording of the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist living in the United States, was killed last month inside the Saudi embassy in Istanbul. The Turkish government has supplied the audio, Trump told Chris Wallace, adding that listening to it won't change how he decides to respond. 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. I know everything that went on in the tape without having to hear it."

U.S. intelligence has concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing, which he denies. Khashoggi had been critical of the Saudi government, but also supported some of its policies. Trump told reporters on Saturday that a full report will be published by Tuesday, including the answer to "who did it." On Fox News, Trump said Saudi Arabia is "an ally, and I want to stick with an ally that in many ways has been very good." Catherine Garcia

November 15, 2018

The United States is considering extraditing one of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's political enemies in an attempt to get Turkey to "ease pressure" on Saudi Arabia, NBC News reported Thursday.

The Trump administration has been examining ways to extradite Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who has been living in Pennsylvania with a green card for almost two decades, the report says. This effort is reportedly directly tied to the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who Turkey says was murdered by Saudi government operatives in Istanbul. NBC News reports that Gulen's extradition would be a way to "placate Turkey over the murder."

A U.S. official reportedly says there has been pushback against the possibility. "The career guys were furious" at the suggestion, said the official.

Turkey formally requested Gulen's extradition in 2016, after blaming him for an attempted coup, NBC News reported at the time. If extradition isn't an option, the Trump administration has also weighed the possibility of making Gulen relocate to South Africa. Turkey disputes the report and says there is "no connection" between Khashoggi's murder and the Gulen case. Alternatively, the release of Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla, who was sentenced to prison for evading sanctions, has also been considered, NBC News reports.

This news comes after Saudi Arabia once again changed its story about Khashoggi's murder, concluding the journalist was killed in an on-the-spot decision after previously calling his murder premeditated. News about Gulen's possible extradition drew immediate criticism, with NBC News' Benjy Sarlin summing it up: "So if I have this right," he wrote, "Trump looking into handing a prominent dissident over to an authoritarian regime to get them to ease up on a second authoritarian regime for murdering a second prominent dissident?" Brendan Morrow

November 15, 2018

Saudi Arabia has indicted 11 people in connection with the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, and five of them may receive the death penalty.

The Saudi public prosecutor, Saud al-Mojeb, announced the charges during a news conference Thursday, which came over a month after the journalist, who was critical of the kingdom, went missing at the Saudi consulate in Turkey, per The Washington Post. Al-Mojeb says a 15-person team was sent to the consulate to abduct Khashoggi, but when he resisted, they decided to kill him, The New York Times reports. The Saudi public prosecutor says they did so by injecting Khashoggi with an overdose of a sedative and then dismembering his body, per CNN.

After Khashoggi went missing in early October, the kingdom's narrative of events changed dramatically. At first, it said Khashoggi actually left the consulate safely, only to later say he was killed accidentally during a fistfight. Then Saudi officials suggested the killing was premeditated. Now, the public prosecutor claims the decision to kill Khashoggi was made on the spot, The New York Times reports.

Saudi Arabia also maintains that the operation was carried out without the knowledge of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, even though officials say this is unlikely, the Times reports. "It is obvious that this murder was previously planned and that the order had come from high-level authorities in Saudi Arabia," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says. Brendan Morrow

November 13, 2018

Turkey's evidence that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was directly involved in the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi last month includes a phone call from one of the 15 men who apparently murdered him in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, The New York Times reports. In the recording, Saudi security officer Maer Abdulaziz Mutreb tells a superior in Saudi Arabia to "tell your boss" that the deed was done, right after the killing. Turkish intelligence believes the person on the other end of the call, conducted in Arabic, was an aide to the crown prince.

Turkey played the recording for CIA Director Gina Haspel in Ankara last month, and on Saturday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country has shared the audio with not just the U.S. but also Saudi Arabia and other Western allies. However, Turkish officials say no other government has copies of the recordings, just transcripts.

Bin Salman's name is not mentioned in the audio, and Saudi officials deny he had "any knowledge whatsoever" of Khashoggi's killing and said there were no instructions to "tell your boss" in the parts of the recordings Turkey played for them. But "even without definitive proof, intelligence agencies had already concluded that only Prince Mohammed could have ordered the operation to kill Mr. Khashoggi, given the personal character of his governance and the depth of his control over the kingdom," the Times notes.

"A phone call like that is about as close to a smoking gun as you are going to get," former CIA officer Bruce Riedel tells the Times. "It is pretty incriminating evidence." Without irrefutable evidence, President Trump is unlikely to cut ties with bin Salman, the Times reports, "but the shift in power in Congress, where Democrats take control of the House in January, is also increasing pressure on the administration to take more punitive action." Read more at The New York Times. Peter Weber

November 1, 2018

The crown prince of Saudi Arabia denigrated journalist Jamal Khashoggi and claimed he was a dangerous Islamist during a call with the White House shortly after Khashoggi's death, The Washington Post reported Thursday.

The conversation reportedly took place between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and both White House National Security Adviser John Bolton and senior adviser Jared Kushner. The Post reports that bin Salman claimed Khashoggi was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood during this call and encouraged the U.S. to maintain its alliance with Saudi Arabia. Bolton reportedly did not indicate whether he agreed with this assessment of the missing journalist.

This was before Saudi Arabia acknowledged knowing anything about what happened to Khashoggi, who disappeared when he visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in early October. The Saudi government's story shifted dramatically over the following weeks, first claiming Khashoggi made it out of the consulate, then suggesting he had been killed during a rogue operation that went wrong when a fist fight broke out. Later, they conceded that Khashoggi's murder was actually premeditated. In private, bin Salman was apparently "puzzled" by the widespread outrage over Khashoggi's disappearance, the Post reports.

Recently, the Saudi government has characterized Khashoggi's death as a "terrible tragedy," and the Saudi ambassador to the United States, who is also the crown prince's brother, called Khashoggi a "friend" who dedicated "a great portion of his life to serve his country." Khashoggi's family told the Post that he was not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and said he "was not a dangerous person in any way possible." A Saudi official denied that the crown prince made these comments. Read more at The Washington Post. Brendan Morrow

October 25, 2018

During her secret visit to Turkey this week, CIA Director Gina Haspel listened to audio that Turkey says captured Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi's murder by Saudi agents inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, The Washington Post reports, citing people familiar with her meetings. A source familiar with the audio told the Post it is "compelling" and could increase pressure on the Trump administration to hold the Saudis accountable. Congress could also ask Haspel to brief members on the audio recording.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, or MBS, called Khashoggi's death a "heinous crime" on Wednesday, but Turkey, U.S. lawmakers, and even President Trump are increasingly skeptical of his denial of involvement in the operation. "How should a real investigation in Saudi Arabia work when one of the main suspects is the crown prince MBS?" a Turkish senior official told the Post. "He is one of the suspects. Members of his royal guard were part of the killing squad. The U.S. nor the rest of the world should really accept this."

For his part, "Trump is torn between his instincts to fight and punish and the advice he's receiving from advisers to stick by Saudi Arabia's 33-year-old crown prince," Vanity Fair reports, citing five Republicans briefed on internal White House discussions. "The most determined backstage voice pushing to not upend the relationship is that of Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who has made MBS a central node in his yet-to-be-seen Israeli-Palestinian peace plan," but "while Kushner's embrace of MBS had strategic logic, it has been a source of frustration for administration officials," who complain Kushner is out of his depth and compromised. Peter Weber

October 23, 2018

In a speech to his ruling Justice and Development Party on Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Saudi Arabia's acknowledgment that Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was killed Oct. 2 inside its Istanbul consulate a good first step, but he forcefully disputed the Saudi story that Khashoggi died in a spontaneous fistfight. Saudi officials began planning Khashoggi's "savage murder" in late September, Erdogan said, and a team of three Saudis arrived Oct. 1 to scout a forest, possibly for a place to bury Khashoggi's dismembered remains. He also confirmed that the Saudis used a body double to try and make it seem like Khashoggi left the consulate alive.

Erdogan said the 18 people Saudi Arabia says it has arrested for the murder include the 15 Saudi agents identified by Turkish intelligence plus three consular officials, and he requested that Saudi Arabia let them be tried for their crimes in Istanbul. He also said a Saudi official told him a Turkish co-conspirator may have helped dispose of the body. Erdogan questioned who ordered the assassination, asked what happened to Khashoggi's body, and said he expects all perpetrators to be brought to justice, "from the highest level to the lowest level."

“I do not doubt the sincerity of King Salman," Erdogan said. "That being said, an independent investigation needs to be carried out. This is a political killing." He did not mention Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the king's son. But the speech carried a strong implication that Erdogan did not believe the crown prince is innocent, says Bethan McKernan, Middle East correspondent for The Guardian. Peter Weber

October 23, 2018

CIA Director Gina Haspel flew to Turkey on Monday, ahead of a speech by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about Turkey's evidence that Saudi Arabia murdered and dismembered journalist Jamal Khashoggi at Istanbul's Saudi consulate on Oct. 2, The Washington Post reports, citing people familiar with the matter. "The arrival of the director suggests an effort by the U.S. intelligence community to assess the information the Turks have," including purported audio recordings of Khashoggi's killing, the Post says. "Intelligence officials are increasingly skeptical of the Saudi account and have warned President Trump" to take the Saudis' explanations with a large grain of salt.

On Saturday, Saudi Arabia finally acknowledged that Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen and U.S. resident, had died inside its consulate, but claimed it was due to a fight gone awry with rogue agents and that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had no involvement with the plan. Evidence keeps emerging to cast doubt on that story. On Monday, Trump said he's "not satisfied with what I've heard" from Saudi officials, adding: "We have top intelligence people in Turkey. We're going to see what we have. I'll know a lot tomorrow."

The Trump administration and Saudi allies in the region, including Israel and the United Arab Emirates, have vested interests bin Salman and other Saudi royalty being uninvolved in the scandalous murder. "The chief concern for Washington is that Erdogan will reveal details about Khashoggi's killing that implicate Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom's de facto ruler, who has been a key ally for the Trump administration," the Post notes. Peter Weber

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