Saudi Arabia's top diplomat said Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman wasn't aware of what he called a "rogue operation" that ended in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. He also said the kingdom does not know what happened to Khashoggi's body after his death.
"The crown prince was not aware of this [operation]. Even the senior leadership of our intelligence service was not aware of this. This was an operation that was a rogue operation," Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said in an interview with Fox News' Bret Baier on Sunday. "We want to make sure that we know what happened and we want to make sure that those responsible be held to account."
Saudi officials had claimed for weeks that Khashoggi, a U.S.-based columnist for The Washington Post, left the consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, despite no evidence he exited the building. On Friday, the kingdom acknowledged for the first time that Khashoggi was killed inside the complex in what the government characterized as a fistfight gone off the rails. Eighteen Saudi nationals were detained and five top intelligence officials were fired for their suspected roles in the operation.
Al-Jubeir said the kingdom's investigation is ongoing, and called the killing a "huge and grave mistake." He sought to shield the 33-year-old crown prince from responsibility, as lawmakers in the U.S. and leaders around the world pin blame on the country's heir apparent.
"There is the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. In this case, people have turned it upside down, unfortunately," al-Jubeir said.
He claimed those who carried out the operation "weren't people closely tied to [Crown Prince Mohammed],'' he said. "They made the mistake and they tried to cover up for it." Photos show several Saudi operatives present at the consulate had been part of the crown prince's security detail at various times, including during a tour of the U.S. last year.
Asked if Khashoggi's body had been dismembered, al-Jubeir said Saudi investigators "are working on this with our Turkish colleagues."
"We discovered that he was killed in the consulate. We don't know in terms of details how. We don't know where the body is," al-Jubeir said. He apologized to Khashoggi's family, and said, "Our condolences go out to them. We feel their pain."
President Trump on Saturday saidin its response to Khashoggi's disappearance, but avoided blaming the crown prince directly for his death.
"Nobody has told me he's responsible. Nobody has told me he's not responsible. We haven't reached that point," Mr. Trump told The Washington Post on Saturday. "There is a possibility he found out about it afterward. It could be something in the building went badly awry."
Republican senators reacted to the latest Saudi narrative with incredulity on the Sunday talk shows.
"Do I think he did it? Yes, I think he did it. It is my thinking that MBS was involved, that he directed this and that this person was purposely murdered," Republican Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday, using the crown prince's initials.
Sen. Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, echoed that view. "The Saudis have said a whole bunch of crap that is not accurate or true," he said on "State of the Union."
"You don't bring a bonesaw to an accidental fistfight," Sasse said, referring to claims by Turkish officials that Khashoggi's body was dismembered inside the consulate.