Saudi Arabia's leaders are considering blaming a top Saudi intelligence officer for the apparent murder of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi, sources with knowledge told The New York Times on Thursday.
The man who could be blamed for the killing, Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri, is a top adviser to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Blaming al-Assiri could deflect attention from Salman, who many U.S. intelligence officials suspect could be behind the alleged slaying, the Times reported.
Al-Assiri was previously the public-facing spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition that intervened in Yemen's bloody civil war in 2015, the Times reported.
Reports emerged earlier this week that the Saudis were assembling a report that would admit Khashoggi was killed by Saudi agents during a "botched interrogation" that occurred without authorization from the country's top leaders.
So far, the Saudis have publicly denied any involvement in Khashoggi's disappearance.
Turkish authorities have been saying for weeks that a team of Saudi agents killed Khashoggi in Istanbul's Saudi Consulate on Oct. 2. Khashoggi was last seen entering the embassy.
Turkey claims it has access to a recording of Khashoggi being tortured and dismembered by Saudis. The U.S. has requested access to the audio.
Four of the suspects in Khashoggi's alleged murder have been identified as members of Salman's security team, the Times reported.
A person close to the White House told the Times that White House adviser Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerBiden celebrates start of Hanukkah Kushner looking to Middle East for investors in new firm: report Watchdog finds no money has flowed out of agency tasked by Trump admin to fight pandemic MORE has been telling President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden heading to Kansas City to promote infrastructure package Trump calls Milley a 'f---ing idiot' over Afghanistan withdrawal First rally for far-right French candidate Zemmour prompts protests, violence MORE, his father-in-law, to stand by the crown prince.
Kushner has reportedly told Trump that the outrage will die down soon, just as it did after reports emerged that Saudi Arabia was responsible for killing 40 children in a brutal attack during Yemen's civil war.
Kushner's warm relationship with Salman has come under close scrutiny as the Khashoggi crisis has unfolded.
President Trump and his Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoHaley has 'positive' meeting with Trump No time for the timid: The dual threats of progressives and Trump Psaki: Sexism contributes to some criticism of Harris MORE have repeated Saudi denials, saying the crown prince and King Salman claim they were not involved in Khashoggi's disappearance whatsoever.
Both Trump and Pompeo have noted the U.S. has a close relationship with Saudi Arabia. The two countries have deep financial and diplomatic ties, with the U.S. recently selling $110 in arms to the Saudis. The kingdom is the No. 2 supplier of oil to the U.S.
Khashoggi's disappearance has created an international crisis, with multiple countries calling for an investigation into the claims that Saudi leadership ordered Khashoggi's murder. Multiple U.S. lawmakers have called for punishments against the Saudis, including sanctions and an end to arms deals.
Khashoggi was a Virginia-based opinions contributor to The Washington Post. He was a leading critic of the Saudi government.