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Jared Kushner says administration still in "fact-finding phase" of Khashoggi case

Last Updated Oct 22, 2018 5:09 PM EDT

The Trump administration is still in a "fact-finding phase" to discover exactly what happened to Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, said Trump son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner. 

Kushner, who has been a crucial figure in bridging the U.S.-Saudi relationship and relationship with 33-year-old Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in particular, emphasized in a forum with CNN's Van Jones Monday that the U.S. is waiting for all the facts to emerge. And, Kushner added, it's important to keep in mind how critical the U.S.-Saudi relationship is for combatting terrorism and Iranian aggression. Kushner's language mirrored how the president has cast the Khashoggi saga, although Kushner didn't bring up the value of arms sales, as Mr. Trump repeatedly has.

"With regards to the situation in Saudi Arabia I'd say that right now as an administration we're now more in the fact-finding phase," Kushner said during the CITIZEN by CNN forum in New York. "And we're obviously getting as many facts as we can from the different places. And then we'll determine which facts are credible. And then after that, the president and the secretary of state will make a determination as to what we deem to be credible and what actions we think we should take."

Jones repeatedly pressed Kushner on the subject, asking him variations of a question about how the U.S. can trust the Saudis to investigate themselves. Both Turkey and Saudi Arabia have been probing what happened to Khashoggi after entering the consulate earlier this month, and Saudi Arabia, after originally saying Khashoggi exited the consulate, claimed Friday night Khashoggi got into a "fist fight" with 18 others inside the consulate and died. The Saudis' latest version of events does not appear to have put to rest questions about the credibility of their investigation. 

Mr. Trump told reporters Monday afternoon that he's "not satisfied" with what he's heard so far regarding Saudi Arabia. 

Asked whether anything that's happened in recent weeks has caused him to raise questions about his confidence in the crown prince or the Saudis, Kushner emphasized the importance of the U.S.-Saudi relationship in the fight against terrorism. Mr. Trump himself cast doubt on the Saudis' story over the weekend

"Look, like I said, once we have all the facts, then we'll make an assessment," Kushner said. "But again, I think that our administration's made a lot of gains in our fight against terrorism. We have to deal with the long-term ideology of extremism and Saudi Arabia's a critical partner in that."

"I mean they're the custodian of the two holy sites, which is very significant in the religion of Islam," Kushner continued. "And a lot of the reforms they've been making there to help us track down the terror financing, and then also to push back against people who are perverting the religion have been very historic over the last year. So we're hopeful we can keeping pushing forward with a lot of the initiatives that further American interests and that push back against Iran's aggression. And so, we're going to stay focused on that." 

Kushner also dismissed reporting claiming he pressed the president to give the Saudis more time and space to complete their investigation, a move the president's critics said could give Saudis more time to concoct a story. 

"You know, I — learned this probably very much more in my first six months —  which was that when I talk to the president I make sure I am just talking to the president, so there's been a lot less reporting on kind of, what advice I give him and don't give him and I think we've both learned to make sure that advice stays between us," Kushner said. "So again, unless these people have magic sources, I don't know how their reporting's been accurate." 

Mr. Trump has said he will make recommendations to Congress as to what to do if it is determined that the Saudis are indeed responsible for Khashoggi's death. 

  • Kathryn Watson

    Kathryn Watson is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.