WASHINGTON (Reuters) – US President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that the Saudi authorities are staging the "worst cover-up" of the murder of the well-known journalist Jamal Khashoggi this month.
Asked by a reporter in the White House Oval Office how the murder of Khashoggi could have happened, Trump said, "They had a very bad original concept, it was done badly, and the cover-up was one of the worst in the world History of the Cover-ups. "
Khashoggi's death at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on October 2 has worldwide outrage and tense relations between Riyadh and Washington. Khashoggi, a critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was a US resident and columnist for the Washington Post.
Trump's comments on the incident in recent days ranged from threats against Saudi Arabia with "very serious" consequences and potential economic sanctions, to more conciliatory statements regarding the role of US allies against Iran and militants Islamists underline, as well as an important buyer of US weapons.
On Tuesday, Trump said the Khashoggi affair was badly handled by Saudi officials. "Bad thing, never thought, somebody screwed it up, and they had the worst coverup ever," Trump said.
Riyadh initially denied the knowledge of Khashoggi's fate before saying that he had been killed in a consulate battle, a reaction that has met with skepticism from several Western governments and their relations with the US are burdened by the world's largest oil exporter.
The Kingdom has since changed portions of its official tale of killing, further deepening international concern.
Chart on Khashoggi killing: tmsnrt.rs/2JdjuNH
Saudi royal family: tmsnrt.rs/2CzrEyJ
Additional coverage by Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara, Ezgi Erkoyun, Daren Butler, Ali Kucukgocmen and Sarah Dadouch in Istanbul and Susan Heavey in Washington; Letter from David Dolan and Alistair Bell; Editors of Yara Bayoumy and Will Dunham