World Politics

The Khashoggi fallout: A timeline of events

Key Points
  • The White House is standing steadfast by Saudi Arabia despite weeks of international outcry over the kingdom's alleged involvement in the death of Saudi journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi.
  • The monarchy for weeks sought to manage the narrative and stifle criticism surrounding the death of the journalist, a Washington Post columnist known for his criticism of the royal family.
  • Saudi Arabia denies all allegations of its crown prince's involvement in the murder, but its image has been dealt a severe blow, despite the U.S. administration's support. 
A man holds a poster of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi during a protest organized by members of the Turkish-Arabic Media Association at the entrance to Saudi Arabia's consulate on October 8, 2018 in Istanbul, Turkey. 
Chris McGrath | Getty Images News | Getty Images

The White House is standing steadfast by Saudi Arabia despite weeks of international outcry over the kingdom's alleged involvement in the death of Saudi journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi.

While President Donald Trump has made it clear he will not pursue punitive action despite a reported CIA assessment tying Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the murder, more fallout may come in the form of Congressional action. The U.S.-Saudi relationship remains intact, but the kingdom's image has taken significant blows, prompting questions about the stability of the crown prince's leadership.

The monarchy for weeks sought to manage the narrative and stifle criticism surrounding the death of the journalist, a Washington Post columnist known for his criticism of the royal family. Khashoggi himself had been living in self-imposed exile in Virginia, after having worked in Saudi media for decades and later serving as advisor to senior Saudi diplomat Prince Turki al Faisal.

The Saudi government denies the CIA's allegations, flatly calling its assessment "false" and has rejected reports suggesting a change in the kingdom's line of succession could be required. After changing its version of events several times, Riyadh maintains that the murder was premeditated and carried out by "rogue killers" without the crown prince's knowledge.

The 33-year-old son of King Salman, known for his assertive foreign policy, liberalizing reforms and aggressive bombing campaign over neighboring Yemen, is arguably the region's most powerful leader and enjoys a warm personal relationship with Trump and his advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner. Riyadh has become a lynchpin in the Trump administration's Middle East policy, which centers around isolating the Saudi Kingdom's rival Iran and keeping oil prices under control.

How did we get here?

Trump defends Saudi Arabia ties despite Khashoggi's death
Trump defends Saudi Arabia ties despite Khashoggi's death

October 2: Khashoggi was last seen on security camera footage entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on the afternoon of Oct. 2, where he was picking up documents that would allow him to marry his Turkish fiancee.

As news of his disappearance spreads, Saudi authorities insist Khashoggi had left the consulate unharmed, but could not provide corroborating evidence. The Turkish government, long at odds with Saudi Arabia, announces the launch of a criminal investigation.

October 6: Saudi Arabia's consul general says that "talk of his kidnapping was baseless," according to Reuters. On October 8, the crown prince's brother and Saudi ambassador to Washington Khalid bin Salman reiterated those words to Axios.

October 10: Turkish authorities release photographs of a 15-member Saudi "hit squad" which included several security officials known to be close to the crown prince. Turkish officials said that within two hours of entering the consulate, Khashoggi was killed by the Saudi agents, who dismembered his body using a bone saw. Local media reveals that the government has audio recordings of Khashoggi's killing in the consulate.

The images revealed use of a private charter plane, which transported the Saudi team in and out of the country on October 2. See a detailed breakdown of the day by the New York Times here.

October 10: A bipartisan group of more than 20 senators pens a letter to the White House triggering the Global Magnitsky Act, which is designed to penalize governments for human rights abuses. This gives the administration four months to carry out an investigation and determine whether abuses occurred. Numerous individual lawmakers from both parties call for sanctions on Saudi Arabia and a halt in arms sales to the kingdom.

October 12: A Saudi delegation arrives in Turkish capital Ankara for an investigation into the disappearance.

October 15: Nearly two weeks after Khashoggi went missing, Turkish investigative teams are allowed to begin searching the Saudi consulate.

Saudi foreign minister rejects the CIA assessment on Khashoggi
Saudi foreign minister rejects the CIA assessment on Khashoggi

October 13: Trump vows "severe punishment" for Saudi Arabia if the regime is found responsible for Khashoggi's death, but rejects the idea of sanctions on weapons deals with the kingdom, which he said were fueling hundreds of thousands of American jobs. The U.S. is the number one weapons supplier to Riyadh, with $19.59 billion in arms sales between 2007 and 2017, according to the Stockholm Institute for Peace.

October 16: Trump speaks via phone with Crown Prince Mohammed, and tells media the crown prince "totally denied" any knowledge of Khashoggi's fate.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, in an interview with Fox News, describes the crown prince as "toxic" and recommends his removal from the Saudi line of succession to the throne. He adds that were it up to him, he would "sanction the hell out of Saudi Arabia." Graham is a longtime Trump ally and has traditionally supported the U.S.-Saudi alliance.

October 19: Major General Ahmed al-Asiri, the Saudi deputy intelligence chief and one of bin Salman's closest aides, is sacked. Saudi officials later named Al-Asiri as having ordered Khashoggi's repatriation to the kingdom. Saud al Qahtani, the prince's top aide, is also removed from his position.

After more than two weeks of denying any kidnap and murder allegations, Saudi authorities admit that the journalist was killed inside the consulate after a "fist fight" broke out, but make no mention of his body's whereabouts.

October 21: A Saudi official tells Reuters that Khashoggi died in a "chokehold" after 15 Saudi operatives, which government authorities said were meant to simply detain Khashoggi and take him to Saudi Arabia for questioning, overstepped their orders.

October 22: CIA Director Gina Haspel arrives in Turkey to be briefed by Turkish authorities, according to reports. Sources later tell media that the agency chief listened to a recording of Khashoggi's killing provided by Turkish intelligence, made possible by listening devices places placed in the Saudi consulate.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, right, shakes hands with Salah Khashoggi, a son, of Jamal Khashoggi, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Tuesday, Oct. 23. 
Saudi Press Agency | AP

October 23: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announces that Khashoggi's killing was premeditated and planned at the "highest levels" of the Saudi government, but stops short of directly naming the crown prince.

October 24: In his first public comments on the killing, Crown Prince Mohammed calls it a "heinous crime that cannot be justified," while speaking at the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh. The high-profile event, meant to showcase the kingdom's investment opportunities, saw scores of business executives and international leaders withdraw their attendance amid the outcry over Khashoggi's death.

October 25: Saudi Arabia's public prosecutor describes the murder as "premeditated," reversing earlier statements that the death was an accident.

November 10: Erdogan says Turkey has given audio recordings taken before and during Khashoggi's murder to the intelligence agencies of Saudi Arabia, the U.S., the U.K., Germany and France. Saudi Arabia tells the UN that the Khashoggi killers will face justice.

November 15: Saudi Arabia's deputy public prosecutor announces the kingdom will seek the death penalty for five out of the 11 people charged in the murder. He simultaneously exonerates the crown prince of any involvement.

The U.S. Treasury imposes economic sanctions on 17 Saudi officials, including the crown prince's former top aide Saud al-Qahtani, who was sacked as a result of the investigations. Al-Asiri, the former deputy intelligence chief, is not on the sanctions list.

While the sanctions froze assets and restricted access to the U.S. financial system for those listed, it did not target the Riyadh government or affect weapons deals.

Reports of possible regime change 'ridiculous,' says Saudi foreign minister
Reports of possible regime change 'ridiculous,' says Saudi foreign minister

November 16: The Washington Post reports that CIA assessments have concluded the Saudi crown prince ordered Khashoggi's killing, citing a source with access to the intelligence. NBC News and the New York Times later confirmed the reports, while the CIA declined to comment.

The State Department shortly afterward releases a statement stressing that no conclusions have been reached by the U.S. government.

November 18: Trump tells Fox News in an interview that he has no need to listen to the audio capturing Khashoggi's death, describing it as "a suffering tape ... a terrible tape." The president was briefed via phone on Saturday by Haspel on the U.S. investigation of Khashoggi's death.

The CIA's analysis held that the crown prince — who as heir to the Saudi throne and head of the national defense forces holds absolute power in the kingdom — could not possibly have been unaware of the murder plot, according to sources familiar with the intelligence report.

Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Trump stressed the crown prince's denial of his knowledge of the murder, saying that any reports of CIA assessments were "premature." The president conceded that people close to the prince "were probably involved," but added, "I want to stick with an ally that in many ways has been very good."

November 19: Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir calls the reported CIA assessment false, telling local media: "We in the kingdom know that such allegations about the crown prince have no basis in truth and we categorically reject them."

November 20: Trump releases a strongly-worded statement emphasizing Washington's loyalty to its relationship with the Saudi Kingdom, claiming that there is "nothing definitive" linking the crown prince to Khashoggi's murder.

The 649-word statement, riddled with explanation points, stressed the administration's priority of countering Iran, safeguarding weapons deals and keeping oil prices low. The president dismissed reports of CIA findings and stated that the alliance with the kingdom, and with the crown prince himself, was crucial to U.S. security and economic interests.

Several Republican and Democratic lawmakers respond with criticism, demanding in statements and via Twitter that Saudi Arabia should be held accountable for its actions.

Germany announces it is suspending all future and previously approved weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, citing the Khashoggi allegations and the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

November 21: In an interview with CNBC, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al Jubeir avidly rejects the CIA assessment and suggestions that the royal family's line of succession may be changed to prevent the crown prince becoming king. He calls the reports of potential regime change "outrageous" and "totally unacceptable."

November 22: Denmark suspends future weapon sales to the kingdom, similarly citing the journalist's murder and the Yemen war.