CBS News November 21, 2018, 6:30 PM Saudi official denies crown prince's involvement in Khashoggi's death, but says "nobody is above the law"
Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir told CBS News that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was "not involved" in the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and that "nobody" in Saudi Arabia is above the law.
The CIA has assessed that the crown prince ordered Khashoggi's killing, two U.S. officials confirmed to CBS News. The assessment is based mainly on an understanding of how the Kingdom operates — the tight control the crown prince holds — and that several of those involved in the murder are close to him.
But President Trump released a statement Tuesday, saying "Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn't!"
In an interview with CBS News foreign correspondent Holly Williams, Al Jubeir used Mr. Trump's statement to support his government's claim that the crown prince isn't responsible for Khashoggi's killing.
"What we've heard is the president say that the CIA report is not what people say it is and so we have to go by this," he said. "If you have any evidence, or any government has any evidence that it would like to make available to the Saudi courts, I'm sure the courts would be pleased to receive it."
The full transcript of Williams' interview with Al Jubeir is below:
Holly Williams: President Trump said there will be no more punishment for Saudi Arabia over the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. The Saudi government must be very happy to hear that.
Adel Al Jubeir: Well we've always said that the Saudi government was not involved with this. It was a rouge operation. These individuals were officials of the government who exceeded their authority and committed a crime. We have said that we will investigate what we have. The public prosecutor brought charges against individuals including the death penalty against five. We have said that we will put in place mechanisms to ensure this does not happen again. This is how normal countries deal with a situation like this.
This is a terrible mistake and we want to make sure it doesn't happen again and we want to make sure that those responsible are held accountable.
Williams: What lessons have been learned by the Saudi government?
Al Jubeir: We are in the middle of a review of our procedures and policies with regards to intelligence operations, make sure people understand their responsibilities and what they can and cannot do very clearly. And to make sure the lines of authority are clear so that we don't have a mistake like this.
Williams: That's a pretty extraordinary breach of authority — murdering somebody inside a Saudi consulate.
Al Jubeir: Absolutely. Yes. And we take it very seriously and we're very concerned about it. But unfortunately these things, mistakes like these happen with other governments.
Williams: President Trump did not clear the crown prince's name. In fact he said that the prince might have had knowledge of the killing. In President Trump's words, "Maybe he did, maybe he didn't." Does that matter to the Saudi government?
Al Jubeir: We have made it very clear that his royal highness the crown prince is not involved with this at all. We have made it very clear that the senior officials who were involved with this were dismissed from their roles. We have detained the individuals who conducted this operation. And as I mentioned we have the prosecutors filing the charges against 11, five of whom he is asking for the death penalty.
Williams: When you've said that the crown prince has been exonerated has the crown prince been investigated?
Al Jubeir: We looked at how this issue came about and how the operation was launched and the people who launched who were part of the operation and what they did. And it has nothing to do with the crown prince.
Williams: Can he be investigated or is he technically above the law?
Al Jubeir: In Saudi Arabia nobody is above the law but we have an investigation, we have information that we received from our Turkish friends, unfortunately we received it after it had been leaked to the media. We have said that if they have more information to provide that we would look forward to receiving that information. Our public prosecutor launched his own investigation in the kingdom. He came to certain conclusions, and based on that he took action.
Williams: Have Saudi officials listened to the audio recording that Turkey says it has of Jamal Khashoggi being killed?
Al Jubeir: I believe one of our officials has in the law enforcement and intelligence area, and we have asked the Turks to provide us with a copy of it so we can do voice recognition and we can do forensics and establish for certainty who the voices on the tape are, but we have yet to receive a copy.
Williams: U.S. officials have told journalists that the CIA assessment is that the crown prince gave the order to kill Jamal Khashoggi. One of the officials who was fired and then sanctioned by the U.S. was an adviser to the crown prince. And the former deputy head of intelligence who apparently sent the team to Istanbul and was then fired was also apparently close to the crown prince. Isn't that quite damning for the crown prince?
Al Jubeir: Look this is a huge tragedy and we're making sure that it doesn't happen again and we want to make sure that those who are involved get their due punishment. The CIA report that you talk about I haven't seen it so I can't assess it. The CIA report that has been talked about in the media, we've heard different versions of it. What I do know is the spokesperson for the State Department said that the reporting on the CIA report is inaccurate, and what we've heard is the president say is that the CIA report is not what people say it is. So we have to go by this. If you have any evidence or if any government has any evidence that would like to make available to the Saudi courts I am sure the courts would be pleased to receive it.
Williams: There are rumors that the crown prince could be replaced because he's become a liability for the Saudi government. Does the crown prince still have the confidence of King Salman?
Al Jubeir: The crown prince has the confidence of every Saudi citizen, including King Salman. The crown prince is the architect and driving force behind the reform program in Saudi Arabia and the vision of 2030. Between turning Saudi Arabia into a modern country to which normal people can lead normal lives. He is the architect between restoring the true Islam to Saudi Arabia. The Islam of moderation and tolerance in which women are empowered and youth are empowered. Where there's a focus on excellence and achievement and serious work against extremism that has been a plague in many countries. And he's the architect of our economic diversification program, attracting foreign investment, opening up new areas for investment, expanding Saudi investments abroad. So he has the support, as I said, of every Saudi citizen.
Williams: Wouldn't the best way for Saudi Arabia to clear the crown prince's name be to have an international investigation and to allow outside investigators to question the crown prince, to question Saudi officials, and to question the men who have now been indicted?
Al Jubeir: We have a public prosecution officer that is capable of conducting investigations and we have a legal system which is capable of adjudicating these cases. So the idea of an international investigation is completely unacceptable to Saudi Arabia. Would any other government allow an international investigation? Did the United States allow an international investigation into Abu Ghraib? Did other countries allow investigations when other issues happened? Of course not. We are a sovereign country, we want to make sure that this doesn't happen again. We have come out from day one to say that this was not authorized. And we have added or told the story based on the information we have and as the information is re-obtained, becomes more complete, we came out and said no, what we said first was not accurate. Here's what actually happened.
Williams: There was initially a cover-up at least by some Saudi officials. That has shaken people's confidence in the Saudi government, hasn't it?
Al Jubeir: The individuals who conducted this operation came back and gave a report that turned out to be false. And then the king ordered an investigating team to go to Turkey and work with our Turkish friends. In doing their work there it turned out that the information that the individuals provided was not correct so his majesty directed that the investigation be launched in Saudi Arabia. The public prosecutor began that investigation and was able to establish that a killing did take place and so we came out and announced it.
As the investigation proceeded and it became more clear how the killing was conducted and who the people responsible were, the public prosecutor came out and to the press and said here is the story that we have been able to put together and here are the steps that will be taken against 11 of the 18 individuals.
Williams: From the outside it looks as though Saudi Arabia's story has just kept on changing from week to week. First the denial, then the suggestion that Jamal Khashoggi died in a fist fight, then most recently that he was killed by a lethal injection.
Al Jubeir: It was based on the information that we were able to obtain. And the testimony or the confessions of the people in detention. And when the public prosecutor was able to put the pieces together a clearer picture emerged that was different from the picture that we had, that we thought was clear, in the beginning. This is not unusual when you have crimes that the facts or the storyline can change. If you look at the Oklahoma City bombing initially people blamed, I believe, the Palestinian American for the crime and they even talked about how he escaped. Then it turns out it was Timothy McVeigh. Does this mean that Oklahoma police and the FBI were covering up? It just means that as more of the facts were obtained the story becomes more clear and then that's what our prosecution office shared with the world.
Williams: As a result of this crisis is Saudi Arabia going to change what it is doing in Yemen? Where Saudi Arabia is accused of targeting civilians with air strikes and exacerbating a deadly famine?
Al Jubeir: We have our policies the same in terms of domestic policies. Our foreign policies the same. Our security policy is the same. In Yemen we are there to protect humans from being taken over by radical militia allied with Iran and Hezbollah that has hijacked the country that uses child soldiers, boys 9, 10, 11 years old, puts them in the battlefield. That uses starvation as an instrument of policy by laying siege on towns and villages and preventing aid from coming in. By robbing humanitarian assistance and selling it to fund its war machine. By launching ballistic missiles indiscriminately at towns and cities including more than 200 missiles at Saudi Arabia.
We're trying to move Yemen towards a peaceful situation. We're trying to move Yemen towards a political settlement based on UN Resolution 2216 and the outcomes of the national dialogue agreement and the GCC initiative. We are working very closely with the UN in order to achieve that.
Williams: So no change?
Al Jubeir: The policy in Yemen has always been designed to minimize casualties and to maximize humanitarian support. No country in the world has provided more aid to Yemen than Saudi Arabia. The amount of aid has succeeded $13 billion since the conflict began. Two days ago we announced another 500 million to alleviate food shortages in Yemen. We are committed to providing war assistance to Yemen, and we're committed to rebuilding Yemen when the war is over.
Williams: Just over two years from now the U.S. could have a Democrat in the Oval Office. Both houses of Congress could be controlled by the Democrats. And then the U.S. government might take a much greater interest in finding out who gave the order ultimately to kill Jamal Khashoggi. Is that worrying for the Saudi government?
Al Jubeir: We deal with U.S. governments … U.S. presidents whether Democrat or Republican. Our relationship is bipartisan. It began with a historic meeting between the late King Abdul Aziz and the late Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who is a Democrat. And it continued and grew stronger and deeper and broader with every passing decade, irrespective of who is in the White House.
I believe that America appreciates Saudi Arabia's central role in the Arab world and the Islamic world. Appreciates Saudi Arabia's central role in the financial markets, and in the energy markets. I believe America appreciates Saudi Arabia's central role in the fighting of extremism and terrorism. And I believe America appreciates Saudi Arabia's partnership in solving the problems of the region if not the world. Every American president has understood this since the late FDR.
Williams: You're confident that Saudi Arabia's alliance with the U.S. is safe despite the killing of Jamal Khashoggi?
Al Jubeir: God willing, yes. Because we as a government had nothing to do with it. This was a rogue operation, we came out and said it, we identified the individuals involved, the public prosecutor has filed charges against them and five of them will be facing a death sentence.