Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump‘s son-in-law who serves as a senior White House adviser, dodged questions on journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s death and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s role in the murder on Monday.
‘We’re more in the fact-finding phase, and we’re obviously getting as many fact as we can from the different places. And then we’ll determine which facts are credible,’ Kushner said at a CITIZEN by CNN event in New York City.
It was the first public remarks on the issue by Kushner, who has a close relationship with the crown prince and has been involved in the region’s politics because of his work on the Middle East peace process.
But he brushed away a question on whether the U.S. can trust the Saudis to investigate themselves in the matter, saying once all the facts are in, they will ‘determine what we want to believe.’
‘We’re getting facts in from multiple places. Once those facts come in, the Secretary of State will work with our national security team to help us determine what we want to believe,’ Kushner noted.
He also defended Saudi Arabia as a strong ally to the United States in the Middle East, particularly in the fight on terrorism.
White House adviser Jared Kushner dodged questions on Saudi Arabia and its role in the death of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi
President Donald Trump, flanked by White House senior advisor Jared Kushner, meets with Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh in May 2017.
‘I’ll also say that we have to be able to work with our allies,’ Kushner said. ‘And Saudi Arabia has been, I think, a very strong ally.’
He noted the administration is approaching the situation with ‘our eyes wide open.’
‘The Middle East is a rough place. It’s been a rough place for a very long time,’ he said. ‘We have to be able to pursue our strategic objectives. But we also have to deal with what is obviously a terrible situation.’
But Kushner wasn’t pressed by moderator Van Jones, a former Obama White House staffer turned CNN commentator, on any details about the location of Khashoggi’s body or whether the crown prince lied to him.
He was asked if he worried the crown prince was deceiving him.
‘I see things that are deceptive every day,’ Kushner replied. ‘I see them in the Middle East. I see them in Washington. Every day we deal with different people who are trying to deceive us in different way.’
Kushner, who has a close friendship with MBS – the Saudi crown prince is known by his initials – did say he advised him to be transparent on the investigation the Kingdom is conducting.
‘Just to be transparent – to be fully transparent. The world is watching. This is a very very serious allegation,’ he said is the advice he gave MBS.
And he gave a simple ‘we’ll see’ when asked if the prince will heed his words.
Kushner also down played his role in the administration’s foreign policy – a move that follows President Trump’s attempt to down play the relationship between his son-in-law and Saudi prince.
‘I don’t have the Middle East,’ Kushner said of his White House portfolio. ‘I was given the Middle East peace process.’
He punted most of the administration’s foreign policy prowess in that region to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.N Ambassador Nikki Haley.
‘I have one small component of it,’ he said.
Kushner and MBS became close when the president’s son-in-law was working on the Middle East peace process and courted the crown prince in the hopes of getting Saudi backing for his plan.
Kushner was also key in arranging Trump’s first foreign visit at president, which took place in May 2017 in Riyadh, where the president was welcomed with all extravagant displays of royal pageantry.
And Kushner visited Saudi Arabia on his own, including during a tour of the Gulf in June. MBS, in return has visited the White House, where’s he had lunch with Kushner and the president.
Jared Kushner was key to Trump’s first foreign visit as president, which took place in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in May 2017
Saudi Arabia admitted journalist Jamal Khashoggi died in their consulate but the details of the story have changed
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s role in Khashoggi is being questioned
Trump down played their friendship over the weekend.
‘They’re two young guys. Jared doesn’t know him well or anything. They are just two young people. They are the same age. They like each other, I believe,’ the president told The Washington Post.
Kushner is 37 and MBS is 33.
Saudi Arabia has admitted Khashoggi, the dissident writer who worked for The Washington Post, died in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul after days of denial.
Khashoggi entered the consulate on Oct. 2 and was never seen again.
But the details of what happened since he walked into the building have changed repeatedly.
Originally, Saudi officials said Khashoggi had left the consulate but later back tracked and admitted he died – although they claimed it happened in fist fight.
Turkish intelligence officials, however, said the journalist was tortured, killed and dismembered by an expert brought in by the Saudis.
The Kingdom has arrested 15 individuals in the matter and is still investigating.
Officials are questioning the versions of the story and the crown prince’s role in the matter. Many intelligence officials believe Khashoggi could not have been murdered without MSB’s knowledge.
The Kingdom has found itself at the epicenter of an international crisis on the issue as it launches its investigation, which MBS is leading.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told Fox News his death was the role of a ‘rogue’ operation and officials do not know where Khashoggi’s body is.
‘This was an operation that was a rogue operation. This was an operation where individuals ended up exceeding the authorities and responsibilities they had. They made the mistake when they killed Jamal Khashoggi in the consulate and they tried to cover up for it,’ al-Jubeir said.
He claimed MBS had no prior knowledge of what would happen to Khashoggi when he entered the consulate to get the paperwork necessary to marry his Turkish fiance.
The White House has treaded carefully on the issue as international outrage against the Kingdom grows.
There are $110 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia on the table and Trump said last week he does not want to jeopardize jobs and business for Americans by punishing Saudi Arabia, if it was responsible, with sanctions that affect the purchase of weapons.