U.S. national security advisor John Bolton said Tuesday that an audio recording of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s death inside an Istanbul consulate did not appear to provide any link between the killers and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Bolton, speaking on the sidelines of a regional summit in Singapore, said that although he had not listened to the tape himself, “those who have listened to it” concluded that Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler is not implicated.
Recordings of the Oct. 2 operation, carried out by a 15-man hit squad inside Istanbul’s Saudi Consulate, have been shared with Western intelligence officials. The office of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Monday that transcripts of the audio have also been shared with the agencies.
Western diplomats and Turkish officials say that it would be difficult to carry out such an operation without the approval of Mohammed, the kingdom’s de facto ruler. At least one member of the Saudi hit squad had served as his bodyguard.
According to a New York Times report published Monday, citing three people familiar with the recording, Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, the bodyguard, can be heard making a phone call after Khashoggi’s death. “Tell your boss,” he is reported to have said.
Khashoggi was a former palace insider and Washington Post contributing columnist who lived in self-imposed exile in Virginia, telling friends he feared the reach of the Saudi state.
Since coming to power, Mohammed has launched sweeping social reform at home while adopting hawkish policies abroad. He has also led a far-reaching crackdown on perceived opponents, detaining activists, clerics and dozens of princes.
The Trump administration views the powerful crown prince as a vital partner. Saudi Arabia is a major purchaser of American weapons and the linchpin of a regional strategy focused on rolling back Iranian influence.
Bolton described the relationship as “incredibly important” and said that President Trump did not believe that ongoing probes into the killing would affect arms sales to the kingdom.