The Central Intelligence Agency has intercepts of 11 electronic messages that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sent to the adviser who supervised the abduction, torture, killing, and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The messages were sent both before and after the killing, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.
These latest revelations cast even more doubt over the refusal by the Trump administration to admit what the U.S. intelligence community strongly believes: that Prince Mohammed ordered Khashoggi’s murder, or at the very least, was aware that it was occurring.
The Journal’s report is based on excerpts from a CIA assessment announced in November that determined the crown prince likely ordered the killing. Following that assessment, Trump said King Salman and Prince Mohammad “vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder,” and that “Representatives of Saudi Arabia” had claimed Khashoggi was an “enemy of the state.”
Trump isn’t the only administration official providing cover for the Saudi regime. On Wednesday, Defense Secretary James Mattis told reporters, “We have no smoking gun that the crown prince was involved. Not the intelligence community or anyone else. There is no smoking gun.”
The same day, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed there is no “direct reporting” of a kill order by Prince Mohammad, according to The Hill, something that is echoed in the CIA’s assessment.
National Security Adviser John Bolton said he hadn’t listened to an audio recording of Khashoggi’s murder because why should he, and besides, it is in a foreign language.
Friday’s report by the Journal adds more details as to why all of these statements by top Trump administration officials—including the president himself—are laughable.
While the CIA was unable to view the content of the 11 electronic messages, their timing is highly suspicious. They were sent to Saud al-Qahtani, who supervised the 15-man Saudi team that killed Khashoggi inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October and disposed of his body. As the newspaper notes, Qahtani led Prince Mohammed’s strategy to attack dissenters both at home and abroad before he was demoted following a public outcry over Khashoggi’s murder.
And Qahtani “explicitly requested the Crown Prince’s permission when he pursued other sensitive operations in 2015, which reflects the Crown Prince’s command and control expectations,” the CIA assessment said.
In August 2017, Prince Mohammed also allegedly said, referring to Khashoggi, “we could possibly lure him outside Saudi Arabia and make arrangements,” the Journal reported.
At the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the crown prince and Russian President Vladimir Putin drew scorn by greeting each other with laughs and a “bro” handshake. “This is exactly what the Founders feared when they drafted the Emoluments Clause of the United States Constitution,” former chief White House ethics counsel Richard Painter tweeted after the exchange.
French President Emmanuel Macron brought up Khashoggi’s murder in a private conversation with the crown prince that was picked up by a microphone. “You never listen to me,” Macron is heard saying.