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State Department report calls Jamal Khashoggi's death a human rights violation but doesn't implicate the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman

Key Points
  • The State Department acknowledges Saudi Arabia's killing of U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi in its annual human rights report but makes no mention of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the section on his death.
  • The Trump administration has long resisted implicating the crown prince in the murder, citing what it says is insufficient evidence.
  • Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post, was killed in October when he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to pick up documents that would allow him to marry his Turkish fiancee.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman prepares for a family photo during the G20 leaders summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina November 30, 2018. 
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

The State Department acknowledges Saudi Arabia's killing of U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi in its annual human rights report but makes no mention of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the section on his death. That's despite reports that the CIA determined the Saudi leader ordered Khashoggi's assassination.

The Trump administration has long resisted implicating the crown prince in the murder, citing what it says is insufficient evidence.

While the report fails to connect the crown prince to Khashoggi's death, it notes that Saudi Arabia's King Salman "pledged to hold all individuals involved accountable, regardless of position or rank," adding that several officials have been removed from their positions.

Khashoggi, who was a columnist for The Washington Post, was killed in October when he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to pick up documents that would allow him to marry his Turkish fiancee.

Initially, Saudi Arabia claimed Khashoggi, an outspoken critic of the Saudi government, left the consulate unharmed. Days later, Turkish authorities released images of a 15-person "hit squad" from Saudi Arabia arriving at the consulate at the time of Khashoggi's disappearance and later said he was killed by them.

Saudi Arabia has charged 11 people in the murder — the kingdom said it's seeking the death penalty for five of those people — but the country has remained firm in its assertion that the crown prince was not involved in the plot.

At a press conference unveiling the report, Ambassador Michael Kozak said the U.S. has made it clear Khashoggi's death was a "horrendous" and "horrific" act. Regarding the crown prince's possible role in the killing, Kozak said the U.S. is committed to getting all the facts and that Saudi Arabia has not completed its own investigation.

"We're going to hold the government of Saudi Arabia to its promise that it will do a thorough investigation and find all of the facts," Kozak said. We "can all have our suspicions or our speculation as to where it may lead, but our effort has been to have where it comes out be fact-driven rather than opinion-driven."

The U.S. sanctioned 17 people allegedly involved in the murder. Despite outcry from lawmakers demanding an answer from Trump on whether he believes Mohammed bin Salman was involved, Trump has cast doubt that the crown prince played a role.

"Maybe he did and maybe he didn't!" Trump said.

The Saudis have denied the CIA allegations.

Trump said in November that he stood with Saudi Arabia because spoiling relations could negatively impact oil prices, the U.S.' plan to counter Iran in the Middle East and a promise to buy U.S.-made arms. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, however, told CNBC in January that oil prices would not affect America's response to the Khashoggi killing.

The Saudi Arabian Embassy in Washington, D.C., did not immediately respond to CNBC's requests for comment.