President Donald Trump on Tuesday said that the U.S. stands with Saudi Arabia in the wake of the slaying of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
In a lengthy statement — punctuated with eight exclamation points — Trump said that "we may never know all of the facts surrounding" Khashoggi's death, but "our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia."
Trump said that U.S. intelligence agencies are still assessing all the information surrounding the killing of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and critic of the Saudi royal family, in the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul in October.
The Washington Post reported Friday that the CIA had concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman himself had ordered the assassination of Khashoggi, citing people familiar with the matter.
Trump told reporters Saturday that a "very full report" will be coming by Tuesday on the investigation by the U.S. But in his statement Tuesday, Trump appeared to cast doubt that the U.S. probe of the matter was complete.
"It could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event," Trump said in the statement, though "maybe he did and maybe he didn't!"
In remarks outside the White House before departing for the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, Trump said the CIA had "nothing definitive" on the crown prince's involvement.
The president's written statement sparked a bipartisan backlash among congressional lawmakers.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said in a statement that Trump's apparent decision not to punish the Saudi crown prince "is offensive to every value the United States holds dear."
Feinstein said she plans to vote against future arms sales and appropriation to Saudi Arabia, and called for sanctions against the crown prince and the removal of the Saudi ambassador to the U.S.
At least five members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee also criticized the decision in Twitter statements.
After initially denying that Khashoggi had been killed in the consulate, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir admitted that the slaying was a "tremendous mistake." He denied that the crown prince had ordered the killing.
Saudi prosecutors on Thursday said that they would seek the death penalty for five people alleged to be involved in the killing, as well as lesser charges for six others.
That same day, the Trump administration announced sanctions on 17 people for their alleged roles in the killing under the Magnitsky Act.
Trump's statement comes two weeks before the Saudi-led OPEC oil cartel meets with Russia and other producers to set global oil policy. The allied exporters are widely expected to cut output following a severe pullback in oil prices.
Trump recently urged Saudi Arabia and OPEC against throttling back production, a move that would boost oil prices.
Trump's statement makes clear that Saudi oil production was a factor in his decision. After the U.S., "Saudi Arabia is the largest oil producing nation in the world," the statement reads. "They have worked closely with us and have been very responsive to my requests to keeping oil prices at reasonable levels – so important for the world."
The president frames his decision as being chiefly interested in the "absolute security and safety of America," highlighting the kingdom's alliance in the "very important fight against Iran" and its role as a partner in "our paramount goal to fully eliminate the threat of terrorism throughout the world!"
"Very simply it is called America First!" the statement reads in closing.
Trump has long singled out Iran as the major threat in the Middle East, and has taken numerous steps to weaken that oil-rich nation since taking office. Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal brokered during the Obama administration, and reimposed economic sanctions on Iran in recent months.
In the days after Khashoggi's disappearance had first been reported, a growing chorus of politicians came forward to warn that there would be "hell to pay" if Saudi Arabia had indeed killed Khashoggi. Trump, too, had warned of "very severe" consequences against the kingdom.
In the last White House press briefing on Oct. 29, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Trump had met with CIA Director Gina Haspel and that the administration was "weighing different options, and we'll make an announcement about what the decision of that action is."
But in an interview Sunday with Fox News' Chris Wallace, Trump signaled that he was reluctant to harm relations with Saudi Arabia. "You saw we put on very heavy sanctions, massive sanctions on a large group of people from Saudi Arabia. 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," Trump said.
The president also said he had declined to hear a purported tape of the journalist's murder "Because it's a suffering tape, it's a terrible tape. I've been fully briefed on it. There's no reason for me to hear it."
Shortly after Trump's statement was released, the State Department announced that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would address the press following a meeting with the Turkey's foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu.
Pompeo told reporters that he discussed Khashoggi with the Turkish official, and strongly defended Trump's "America First" rationale when asked about the president's statement. Saudi Arabia is "absolutely vital to America's national security," Pompeo said.
Read the president's full statement below:
Statement from President Donald J. Trump on Standing with Saudi Arabia
The world is a very dangerous place!
The country of Iran, as an example, is responsible for a bloody proxy war against Saudi Arabia in Yemen, trying to destabilize Iraq's fragile attempt at democracy, supporting the terror group Hezbollah in Lebanon, propping up dictator Bashar Assad in Syria (who has killed millions of his own citizens), and much more. Likewise, the Iranians have killed many Americans and other innocent people throughout the Middle East. Iran states openly, and with great force, "Death to America!" and "Death to Israel!" Iran is considered "the world's leading sponsor of terror."
On the other hand, Saudi Arabia would gladly withdraw from Yemen if the Iranians would agree to leave. They would immediately provide desperately needed humanitarian assistance. Additionally, Saudi Arabia has agreed to spend billions of dollars in leading the fight against Radical Islamic Terrorism.
After my heavily negotiated trip to Saudi Arabia last year, the Kingdom agreed to spend and invest $450 billion in the United States. This is a record amount of money. It will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, tremendous economic development, and much additional wealth for the United States. Of the $450 billion, $110 billion will be spent on the purchase of military equipment from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and many other great U.S. defense contractors. If we foolishly cancel these contracts, Russia and China would be the enormous beneficiaries - and very happy to acquire all of this newfound business. It would be a wonderful gift to them directly from the United States!
The crime against Jamal Khashoggi was a terrible one, and one that our country does not condone. Indeed, we have taken strong action against those already known to have participated in the murder. After great independent research, we now know many details of this horrible crime. We have already sanctioned 17 Saudis known to have been involved in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi, and the disposal of his body
Representatives of Saudi Arabia say that Jamal Khashoggi was an "enemy of the state" and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but my decision is in no way based on that – this is an unacceptable and horrible crime. King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder of Mr. Khashoggi. 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!
That being said, we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi. In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They have been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran. 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. It is our paramount goal to fully eliminate the threat of terrorism throughout the world!
I understand there are members of Congress who, for political or other reasons, would like to go in a different direction - and they are free to do so. I will consider whatever ideas are presented to me, but only if they are consistent with the absolute security and safety of America. After the United States, Saudi Arabia is the largest oil producing nation in the world. They have worked closely with us and have been very responsive to my requests to keeping oil prices at reasonable levels – so important for the world. As President of the United States I intend to ensure that, in a very dangerous world, America is pursuing its national interests and vigorously contesting countries that wish to do us harm. Very simply it is called America First!