CIA Chief to Brief Trump After Report She Heard Khashoggi Tape

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump will be briefed by his CIA chief on Thursday as the crisis over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul continues to grow, undermining the kingdom’s international ties just as its de facto ruler courts foreign investors.

Central Intelligence Agency Director Gina Haspel will brief Trump Thursday after a quick trip to Turkey this week, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed. That follows a report in the Washington Post that Haspel heard an audio tape allegedly made of Khashoggi’s interrogation and killing at the consulate on Oct. 2.

CIA Chief to Brief Trump After Report She Heard Khashoggi Tape

The CIA declined to comment when asked whether Haspel heard any such recording.

Trump’s briefing comes as a joint Saudi-Turkish team investigating the killing has determined that the suspects had premeditated intentions. The state-run Saudi Press Agency reported the findings, citing the Saudi prosecutor.

The Trump administration faces rising pressure to act against its long-time ally Saudi Arabia, and the president appears to be stepping back from giving Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman his full support. The U.S. has long been Saudi Arabia’s most important partner, and Trump has made the kingdom the centerpiece of his efforts to isolate Iran.

On Tuesday Trump called the shifting stories over Khashoggi’s fate -- the crown prince initially said the journalist left the consulate on this own -- “one of the worst in the history of cover-ups.”

After denying Khashoggi’s death for nearly three weeks, the kingdom last week said the reporter died after an altercation in the consulate, but it hasn’t been able to explain why his body is still missing or how a meeting in a diplomatic compound grew violent.

Trump told the Wall Street Journal in an interview this week that he didn’t think Saudi King Salman knew about the killing in advance. Asked about the crown prince, though, Trump said, “Well, the prince is running things over there more so at this stage. He’s running things, and so if anybody were going to be, it would be him.”

At the same time, Trump and his top advisers have repeatedly said the broader U.S.-Saudi relationship shouldn’t be ruptured over the killing of Khashoggi, a 59-year-old U.S.-based critic of the Saudi government. The president has emphasized that arms sales to the kingdom shouldn’t be canceled, as he believes that would only push the country to look toward Russia and China.

Prince Mohammed on Wednesday made his first public comments since his government admitted Khashoggi had died. Speaking at an investment forum he was hosting in Riyadh, the crown prince called the killing a “heinous crime” but offered no new information on what happened.

Dampening speculation he could be pushed aside, the prince appeared relaxed, ebullient and conciliatory toward Turkey, which has stopped just short of blaming him for the killing.

“Saudi Arabia is carrying out all of the legal procedures to investigate and present the guilty to trial,” the crown prince told his audience. “Many are trying to take advantage of this painful incident to divide the two [Turkey and Saudi Arabia], but they won’t be able to do so.”

Shortly before Prince Mohammed took the stage at the Future Investment Initiative, he spoke to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about the killing of Khashoggi.

News of the call appeared to calm growing speculation that Turkey was edging toward implicating the crown prince, whose ambitions for a modernized Saudi Arabia have been undermined by his penchant for making enemies at home and abroad.

Speaking to a packed auditorium of at least 1,400 people, with other attendees lining the walls, the prince promised an overhaul of Saudi security services and said that ties with Turkey would remain strong so long as he and his father, King Salman, were in power.

“This was a very, very painful incident for all Saudis and everybody else on the planet,” he said of the Khashoggi killing. “It was unnecessary.”

CIA Chief to Brief Trump After Report She Heard Khashoggi Tape

The prince’s olive branch to Turkey appeared to dial back an escalation in rhetoric on Tuesday, when Erdogan made a speech timed to coincide with the opening of the conference in which he said the killing of 59-year-old Khashoggi was premeditated and the culprits should be punished even if they were senior officials.

Earlier on Wednesday, a close aide to Erdogan accused Prince Mohammed of having “blood on his hands.” Erdogan, meanwhile, said those who ordered the killing should also face justice.

An official at Turkey’s presidential palace told Bloomberg, however, that while Turkey wants the crime to be uncovered, it had no interest in interfering in Saudi internal affairs or trying to influence who becomes the next king. The two countries, while both allies of the U.S., have taken opposing positions on crucial Middle East flash points.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.