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Trump: 'I would love' if Saudi crown prince wasn't responsible in Khashoggi killing
President Trump acknowledged late Saturday that Saudi Arabia has not been forthcoming in its explanation of what happened to journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but indicated that he does not believe Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman played a direct role in the dissident's killing.
"There is a possibility he found out about it afterward. It could be something in the building went badly awry. It could be that's when he found about it," Trump told The Washington Post in an interview.
He also indicated he expects more information to come out about Khashoggi's death and left open the possibility the crown prince was responsible.
"Nobody has told me he's responsible," Trump told the Post of the crown prince. "Nobody has told me he's not responsible. We haven't reached that point ... I would love if he wasn't responsible."
While the president has publicly accepted denials from Saudi leadership about their knowledge, or lack thereof, about Khashoggi's death, he acknowledged to the Post that "their stories are all over the place."
"Obviously there's been deception and there's been lies," Trump said.
Khashoggi was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, and was not seen leaving. Saudi leadership initially claimed it did not know what happened to Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who spoke critically of the Saudi government.
Reports emerged in the days that followed that Turkish officials had audio and other evidence that indicated Khashoggi was murdered and dismembered in the consulate. News outlets noted that some individuals seen arriving in Istanbul around the time of Khashoggi's disappearance had ties to the crown prince.
On Friday, Saudi officials announced that they detained 18 people in connection with Khashoggi's death, and claimed the 59-year-old was killed during a fight gone awry in the consulate.
The crown prince has come under intense scrutiny in the wake of the incident. While his father, King Salman, still rules the country, Mohammed holds significant power and oversees a number of government operations.
The president indicated to the Post that he would like to see the crown prince remain in power, calling him a "strong person" who "truly loves his country."
Trump has vowed "severe" consequences" for Saudi Arabia in Khashoggi's death, but has simultaneously emphasized the importance of the economic relationship between the two countries. He has expressed reluctance to touch U.S.-Saudi weapons deals, arguing it might hurt the American economy.
On Friday, he called the Saudi explanation for Khashoggi's death a "good first step."