Trump’s relationship with Saudi crown prince under pressure

Trump’s relationship with Saudi crown prince under pressure
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpProsecutors investigating Trump inaugural fund, pro-Trump super PAC for possible illegal foreign donations: NY Times George Conway: Why take Trump's word over prosecutors' if he 'lies about virtually everything' Federal judge says lawsuit over Trump travel ban waivers will proceed MORE on Sunday showed no signs of pulling back his support for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman despite mounting evidence and opposition to him within his own party.

Ahead of the expected release of a report detailing the intelligence community's findings on the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which reportedly will say the crown prince gave the order to kill him, Trump continued to express doubt about the crown prince's involvement. 

The president was noncommittal when asked on "Fox News Sunday" about the possibility that the crown prince may have lied to him when he denied involvement in Khashoggi's death.

"I don’t know, you know, who could really know. But I can say this, he’s got many people now that say he had no knowledge," Trump said.

The president highlighted that the crown prince had directly denied involvement in Khashoggi's death "maybe five times." Trump has repeatedly pointed to those denials, even as his own intelligence community and lawmakers from both parties have become increasingly certain of Crown Prince Mohammed's role.

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The CIA has reportedly determined that the crown prince ordered Khashoggi's killing. The assessment of "high confidence" is based on multiple sources of intelligence, including a call between the crown prince's brother Khalid bin Salman and Khashoggi, The Washington Post reported.

Trump told reporters on Saturday that it was "premature" to say the CIA had reached a conclusion. His administration would issue a report on the matter on Tuesday, the president said.

Trump has been at times critical of the Saudis over the death of Khashoggi, and at times defensive of the crown prince. The president has expressed reluctance to endanger the U.S.-Saudi relationship, while also condemning the murder of a journalist and criticizing the aftermath as the "worst cover-up ever."

The administration has thus far sanctioned 17 Saudis for their alleged roles in Khashoggi's death, and revoked U.S. visas for some officials deemed responsible for the incident.

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntCongress strikes deal on bill for sexual harassment cases involving lawmakers The Year Ahead: Pressure mounts on election security as 2020 approaches Pressure builds as Pelosi, Schumer, Trump meet over border wall demands MORE (R-Mo.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, rejected on Sunday the suggestion from former Obama adviser Ben Rhodes that Trump may be ignoring U.S. intelligence to cover for the Saudi leader.

Regardless of the findings in Tuesday's report, a number of senators have indicated that the relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia has been fundamentally changed as a result of Khashoggi's killing.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate votes to end US support for Saudi war, bucking Trump Former FBI official says Mueller won’t be ‘colored by politics’ in Russia probe GOP-controlled Senate breaks with Trump on Saudi vote MORE (R-S.C.) said on "Meet the Press" that it's "impossible" for him to believe the crown prince did not sanction the killing, and suggested that as a result, Saudi Arabia will struggle on the world stage. 

"They’re an important ally, but when it comes to the crown prince, he’s irrational, he’s unhinged and I think he's done a lot of damage to the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia," Graham said. "And I have no intention of working with him ever again."

Graham and other Republicans have been consistent in their belief that the crown prince had a hand in Khashoggi's death, and have pressed Trump to take a hard line against the kingdom in response.

"I think the evidence is overwhelming that the crown prince was involved, and so no I don't think we can sweep this under the rug," said Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulOvernight Defense: Senate bucks Trump with Yemen war vote, resolution calling crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi killing | House briefing on Saudi Arabia fails to move needle | Inhofe casts doubt on Space Force Lame-duck Congress should pass First Step Act Limited Senate access to CIA intelligence is not conspiracy MORE (R-Ky.), who has been among the fiercest critics of the U.S.-Saudi relationship.

Paul said on CBS's "Face the Nation" that the sanctions invoked by the Trump administration against 17 individuals for their alleged role in Khashoggi's death does not go far enough. He repeated his suggestion that the Trump administration should cut off arms sales to the Saudis.

Trump has rejected calls to curb arms deals, citing economic concerns.

Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeOvernight Defense: Senate bucks Trump with Yemen war vote, resolution calling crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi killing | House briefing on Saudi Arabia fails to move needle | Inhofe casts doubt on Space Force Flake asks Daily Show where he can get a blanket emblazoned with his 'meaningless tweets' McCaskill: 'Too many embarrassing uncles' in the Senate MORE (R-Ariz.) said on CNN's "State of the Union" that economic interests are not a good enough reason to withhold punishment against the Saudis. 

"To just deflect and say it's a spectacular ally, when, in fact, some of the bloom has been coming off that rose for a while, particularly given the war in Yemen," he said. "So, there are things that we're going to have to confront here soon.  And I hope we do it based on the truth, not in something that we simply want to see because we have a lot invested in the relationship with the crown prince now." 

Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who spoke critically of Saudi leadership, was killed after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. His remains have yet to be recovered.

The president's response to the killing has put his oft-scrutinized relationships with authoritarian figures back in the spotlight. Trump has expressed admiration or a desire for closer ties with North Korea's Kim Jong Un and Russia's Vladimir Putin. In both cases, he has argued that dialogue would benefit U.S. interests.

Trump on Sunday declined to speculate whether the Saudi crown prince had lied to him, and again pointed to his desire to remain close with a controversial ally.

"Will anybody really know?” Trump said when asked if Crown Prince Mohammed lied. “But he did have certainly people that were reasonably close to him and close to him that were probably involved."

“You saw we put on very heavy sanctions, massive sanctions on a large group of people from Saudi Arabia," he continued. "But at the same time we do have an ally and I want to stick with an ally that in many ways has been very good.”