The CIA did not conclude that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, President Donald Trump has revealed.
Jamal Khashoggi was killed on October 2 in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
However, officials told media such an operation would have needed the crown prince’s approval and Saudi Arabia maintains it was a “rogue operation”.
Asked about the CIA’s reported evaluation by reporters in Florida, President Trump said: “They didn’t conclude.”
The president’s comments on November 21 came as the Saudi crown prince began a regional tour of the Middle East, starting with the United Arab Emirates – his first official trip abroad since Jamal Khashoggi was killed.
Prince Mohammed is also expected to participate in a G20 meeting of world leaders in Buenos Aires at the end of the month that will be attended by leaders from the US, Turkey and a number of European countries.
Meanwhile, France has announced that it is imposing sanctions on 18 Saudi nationals – the same individuals targeted with sanctions by the US, UK and Germany – allegedly linked to the Khashoggi murder.
Their list of individuals does not include Prince Mohammed, a spokesperson for the French ministry of foreign affairs said.
President Trump told reporters in Florida: “They have feelings certain ways. I have the report, they have not concluded, I don’t know if anyone’s going to be able to conclude the crown prince did it.”
He added: “But whether he did or whether he didn’t, he denies it vehemently. His father denies it, the king, vehemently.”
However, earlier this week, President Trump released a statement suggesting that Prince Mohammed “could very well” have known about the incident.
The president’s statement said: “[It] could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!”
He has repeatedly stressed the importance of Saudi Arabia to the US following the killing, calling Saudi Arabia a “steadfast partner” that has agreed to invest “a record amount of money” in the US.
Last week, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters that President Trump had confidence in the CIA following conversations with Director Gina Haspel and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about the Khashoggi murder.
Sources quoted in the US media at the time stressed that there was no single piece of evidence linking the crown prince directly to the murder, but officials believe the killing would have required his endorsement.
Separately, the Hurriyet newspaper reported on Thursday that Director Haspel told Turkish officials last month that the CIA had a recording in which the crown prince gave instructions to “silence” Jamal Khashoggi as soon as possible.
When asked about the claims by reporters, President Trump said: “I don’t want to talk about it. You’ll have to ask them.”
Saudi Arabia says claims that the crown prince may have ordered the Khashoggi killing are false and maintains that he knew nothing about it.
As a prominent journalist, Jamal Khashoggi covered major stories including the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the rise of Osama Bin Laden for various Saudi news organizations.
For decades, Jamal Khashoggi was close to the Saudi royal family and also served as an adviser to the government.
However, he fell out of favor and went into self-imposed exile in the US last year. From there, Jamal Khashoggi wrote a monthly column in the Washington Post in which he criticized the policies of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
In his first column for the Washington Post, Jamal Khashoggi said he feared being arrested in an apparent crackdown on dissent overseen by the prince since.
In his last column, Jamal Khashoggi criticized Saudi involvement in the Yemen conflict.