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Will Saudis face punishment from Trump administration for Khashoggi killing?

President Trump said Tuesday the U.S. would maintain a "steadfast" alliance with Saudi Arabia in a defiant statement that made it clear Trump does not want the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi to disrupt the relationship between the two nations.


Trump refused to blame Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for Khashoggi's killing even though the CIA has reportedly concluded that the crown prince ordered his assassination. The CIA on Tuesday was expected to share its full report on the killing with Trump.

"Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event — maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!" the president said, adding that "we may never know" who was responsible.

Trump indicated he believes the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia should override any concerns about Crown Prince Mohammed's alleged involvement in the plot, a stance that will likely anger members of Congress and other U.S. allies who have pressured Trump to hold the crown prince responsible.

"The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region. It is our paramount goal to fully eliminate the threat of terrorism throughout the world!" the president said, citing Saudi efforts to counter Iran.

The president said he understands many lawmakers would like to see a tougher stance against Riyadh "for political or other reasons" but indicated he would only accept suggested punishments "if they are consistent with the absolute security and safety of America," a sign he will not approve severe punishments on the kingdom.

Trump's announcement came in a 638-word statement issued by the White House press office. It contained eight exclamation points and began with the phrases "America First!" and "the world is a very dangerous place!"

He also repeated the Saudi government's claim that Khashoggi was an "enemy of the state" and "a member of the Muslim Brotherhood." But the president said his decision to stand by Saudi Arabia was "in no way based on that" and said he believed "this is an unacceptable and horrible crime."

Saudi Arabia had previously denied a Washington Post report claiming officials disparaged Khashoggi in private conversations with Trump.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo backed Trump's statement on Tuesday in his own remarks later in the day, describing the preservation of the U.S.-Saudi relationship as vital to protecting U.S. national security.

“It’s a mean, nasty world out there, the Middle East in particular," Pompeo said. “This is a long, historic commitment and one that is absolutely vital to American national security."

Khashoggi was killed after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, and the Saudi government has acknowledged he was murdered by a team that met him when he arrived at the building. The team later reportedly dismembered his body, which still has not been found.

The Saudi government has insisted the crown prince did not know of the operation, but numerous reports have cast doubt on the possibility that Crown Prince Mohammed would have no knowledge of its existence.

The Trump administration last week announced it imposed sanctions on 17 Saudis accused of coordinating and executing the plot to kill Khashoggi, a group that included a former top aide to the crown prince and the Saudi consul general in Istanbul.

Trump has repeatedly condemned the killing but has also expressed a desire to move past the controversy, which raised questions about his close relationship to the Saudis.

"Well, nobody knows yet but we'll probably be able to find out," Trump told CBS News's Lesley Stahl last month when asked during a "60 Minutes" interview if Crown Prince Mohammed ordered Khashoggi's assassination. "We would be very angry and upset if that were the case. As of this moment, they deny it. And they deny it vehemently."

Pompeo also declined to say whether he had viewed a completed intelligence assessment on Khashoggi's death but suggested facts could continue "to come to light" even after a report was delivered to Trump.

Critics have likened Trump's decision not to publicly endorse the CIA's findings on Khashoggi to his refusal to unequivocally support the intelligence community's conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 election on his behalf.

Former CIA Director John Brennan called on Congress to "obtain & declassify" his former agency's findings on Khashoggi's death.

"No one in Saudi Arabia—most especially the Crown Prince—should escape accountability for such a heinous act," wrote Brennan, who had his security clearance stripped by Trump due to his past criticism of the president.

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