Two weeks after the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Donald Trump starts covering for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), taking him at his word that he was not involved.
On October 10, Trump remained uncertain about who to say was responsible but did admit that he had spoken to MBS when asked by a reporter. “I’d rather not say, but the answer is yes.”
Trump’s new stance comes after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi privately urged him and his administration to continue supporting MBS. The dates of those conversations are unknown.
His covering for MBS grows more significant after Mike Pompeo visits Saudi Arabia the next day and the Saudi’s deposit $100 million in State Department accounts. The money was pledged months before to aid U.S. efforts in Syria but isn’t paid until October 16.
In his strongest language to date over the missing journalist, President Trump said in an interview with The Associated Press: “Here we go again with you’re guilty until proven innocent.”The New York Times, Oct. 16, 2018
On October 17, Trump tells reporters that he thinks there are “probably” tapes of what happened to Jamal Khashoggi and admits the next day that he has reason to believe the journalist is dead. After reports on October 19 that Mike Pompeo has seen these tapes, Trump tweets that the reports are “FAKE NEWS!” This is the last time he mentions the murder on Twitter.
Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance and murder are identified as an MBS operation by multiple intelligence agencies during this week. Republicans in the Senate even ask the Trump administration to end deals with the Saudis in response to the murder. Trump caves on October 23, complaining that this was “the worst cover-up ever” and warning about possible sanctions.
Mr. Trump’s criticism, and the sanctions announced by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, attested to the mounting pressure on the White House after Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, characterized the killing of Mr. Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul as premeditated and “savage.”
But the president still appeared to be playing for time, complaining about how the Saudis botched the crime rather than about who was behind it, and blacklisting what are likely to be Saudi operatives rather than decision makers like Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.The New York Times, October 23
The U.S. government does not release an official report until Trump leaves office in 2021.
Note: Many of these sources are the New York Times because their search engine provides an easy way to see a timeline of events. I try not to rely on one source — especially the New York Times — and will add more to this post if I find other sources with relevant information to add.