(Adds sources on congressional briefing, background)
By Mark Hosenball
WASHINGTON, Nov 19 (Reuters) - U.S. intelligence officials should issue a public report on the killing of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a senior Democratic U.S. Senator said on Monday, following published reports the CIA believed Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had personally ordered the murder.
The reported finding was the most definitive link made yet to the de facto Saudi ruler’s direct involvement and contradicts Saudi government assertions that he was not.
Senate intelligence committee member Ron Wyden, in a statement to Reuters, called on U.S. spy chiefs to “come out and provide the American people and the Congress with a public assessment of who ordered the killing.”
Khashoggi, a U.S.-based Washington Post columnist who was a critic of the Saudi government, was murdered on Oct. 2 at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul where he went to collect documents needed for a planned marriage.
After offering contradictory explanations for Khashoggi’s disappearance, Riyadh said last week that Khashoggi was killed and his body dismembered when “negotiations” to convince him to return to Saudi Arabia failed. The public prosecutor said it would seek the death penalty for five suspects.
The case has complicated U.S. President Donald Trump’s efforts to preserve ties with an important U.S. ally in the region and his support for the crown prince. Trump said on Sunday he does not want to listen to an audio recording of Khashoggi’s murder, despite pressure to punish Saudi Arabia for the killing.
Trump said in a “Fox News Sunday” interview that he would not listen to the recording “because it’s a suffering tape, it’s a terrible tape ... I don’t want to hear the tape.”
The CIA, relying mainly on circumstantial evidence and its experts’ conclusion that the crown prince tightly controlled Saudi government actions, last week briefed Congress on its assessment that the prince ordered Khashoggi’s assassination, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.
The briefing to Congress was the foundation for a flood of media leaks reporting that the agency had concluded that the crown prince ordered the murder. But Congress was not presented with a written agency report saying this, one source said.
The CIA assessment is backed by the firing last week by the Saudi government of two top Saudi security officials, both of whom U.S. officials believe were implicated in the murder.
Turkish authorities have leaked details of what they said were audio recordings of Khashoggi’s murder inside the consulate.
Some U.S. officials, including CIA Director Gina Haspel, have been given access to the recordings, the sources said.
Officials have said the Trump administration may issue a more formal statement on Tuesday about what U.S. agencies know about Khashoggi’s killing and who was behind it.
Meanwhile, despite the global outcry over the murder, the crown prince plans to participate in a G20 summit in Argentina at the end of November. Al Arabiya television quoted Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih as saying it was part of a foreign trip.
At the United Nations, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu did not request a U.N. inquiry into Khashoggi’s death when he met with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, a U.N. spokesman said, though they did discuss the case. (Reporting by Mark Hosenball, Lisa Lambert in Washington; additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Grant McCool)