Saudis use Trump's Khashoggi statement to cast doubt on CIA assessment

Saudis use Trump's response to doubt CIA

A top Saudi official is using President Trump's response to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi to support the government's claim that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman isn't responsible for his death.

"What we've heard is the president say that the CIA report is not what people say it is and so we have to go by this," Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir told CBS News foreign correspondent Holly Williams. "If you have any evidence, or any government has any evidence that it would like to make available to the Saudi courts, I'm sure the courts would be pleased to receive it."

The CIA has assessed that Crown Prince Mohammed ordered Khashoggi's killing, two U.S. officials confirmed to CBS News. The assessment is based mainly on an understanding of how the Kingdom operates — the tight control the crown prince holds — and that several of those involved in the murder are close to him.

Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi embassy on October 2. Saudi Arabia has acknowledged the murder, but said it was a "rogue operation" without the knowledge of Mohammed bin Salman, often referred to by his initials, MBS. The question of MBS' involvement in the murder is key to the U.S. response and future relations with the kingdom.

"We looked at how this issue came about and how the operation was launched, and the people who were part of the operation and what they did," Al Jubeir said. "It has nothing to do with the crown prince."

On Tuesday, President Trump released a statement saying, "Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn't!"

He added, "That being said, we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi. ... The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region."

Mr. Trump also told reporters that Khashoggi's murder was a "shame," but "it is what it is," stressing the U.S. economic relationship with Saudi Arabia.

"If we abandon Saudi Arabia, it would be a terrible mistake," Mr. Trump said.

When Williams asked Al Jubeir if he's confident that Saudi Arabia's alliance with the U.S. is safe, he said, "God willing, yes."

"Because we as a government had nothing to do with it."

Watch the rest of Williams' interview on the "CBS Evening News" Wednesday, November 21, 6:30-7:00 p.m. ET.