WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declined to directly answer Wednesday whether he believes the denials from Saudi Arabia’s crown prince of involvement in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and he repudiated part of the reported findings of the CIA, the agency Pompeo led until earlier this year.
Some of the CIA findings in the Khashoggi case are “inaccurate,” Pompeo told Fox News’ “Fox & Friends.”
The U.S. intelligence community has concluded with “high confidence” that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was behind the killing of Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen and Washington Post contributing columnist who had been critical of the prince.
The Fox hosts challenged Pompeo about that finding, and the administration’s position that there is no direct evidence proving the guilt of the young prince, the kingdom’s heir to the throne and de facto ruler.
“Some of the reporting that you’ve seen on that has been inaccurate,” Pompeo said of the CIA findings reported by The Washington Post and other news organizations.
Pompeo, who was CIA director until replacing Rex Tillerson at the State Department last spring, did not elaborate when Fox hosts Brian Kilmeade and Ainsley Earhardt asked whether the central CIA finding implicating the prince was false or inaccurate.
“Look, we all know that they’re still working on this. This is still a developing set of facts with respect to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. The intelligence community is working diligently on that,” Pompeo said. “The direct evidence, this is what I’ve said before, the direct evidence isn’t yet available. It may show up tomorrow. It may have shown up overnight and I haven’t seen it.”
Pompeo was set to brief the House later Wednesday on U.S. actions and policy since Khashoggi’s Oct. 2 death inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Republican senators, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, a close ally of the White House on most foreign policy issues, have been sharply critical of President Trump’s handling of the Khashoggi case. CIA Director Gina Haspel delivered a closed-door briefing for senators last week that key lawmakers said provided overwhelming evidence of the prince’s involvement.
“There’s not a smoking gun — there’s a smoking saw,” Graham said then, referring to the bone saw that investigators believe was used to dismember Khashoggi’s body after he was killed by a team of Saudi agents.
Graham has argued that the killing reveals the prince to be reckless and a poor bet for the future of U.S. relations with the kingdom, an important oil supplier, arms purchaser and regional diplomatic heavyweight.
Trump has condemned the killing but said that he will not downgrade the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia even if the prince was behind it.
On Fox, Kilmeade asked Pompeo: “We know the prince knows, right? You know. You — you looked him in the eye. You know that he knows.”
Pompeo replied: “I’ve have spoken to the king, King Salman. I’ve spoken to the crown prince a number of times since the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. And it is absolutely America’s intent to hold everyone accountable who was responsible for this.”
“So that’s yes?” Kilmeade pressed. “When you looked him in the eye and he denied it, did you believe him?”
Pompeo replied only that “the kingdom of Saudi Arabia decides who’s running the country,” and that Trump has already spoken to the importance of preserving the current relationship with the kingdom and its rulers.
In a statement last month after hearing the intelligence agency’s assessment of Mohammed’s alleged role in the killing, Trump said, “Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” The president has said that the value of Saudi investments and the country’s role as a strategic check on Iran are too important to jeopardize.
On Wednesday, Pompeo touted Saudi Arabia as an important ally. “They work with us on issues that provide security for America and for Israel,” he said. “It is an important relationship with the kingdom, and we intend to continue to protect the American people in the way that voters back two years ago demanded.”