CIA has smoking gun on Saudi Prince?

Just when you thought the story of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi embassy in Turkey couldn’t get any stranger, Turkish media adds a new wrinkle. It’s being claimed by a columnist for the newspaper Hurriyet that the CIA has a recording of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman ordering Khashoggi to be “silenced” prior to the killing. No sources are named in the story and nobody else is confirming it, but it’s stirring up all the actors involved in this tale. (Reuters)

A Turkish newspaper reported on Thursday CIA director Gina Haspel signaled to Turkish officials last month that the agency had a recording of a call in which Saudi Arabia’s crown prince gave instructions to “silence” Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Asked about the report, a Turkish official told Reuters he had no information about such a recording. Saudi Arabia has said Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had no prior knowledge of Khashoggi’s killing at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul six weeks ago.

The CIA declined to comment when asked about the report.

“There is talk of another recording,” Hurriyet newspaper journalist Abdulkadir Selvi wrote in a column, saying the purported call took place between Prince Mohammed and his brother, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Washington.

There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical about this report, though such a thing is certainly possible. Nobody from the White House, the CIA, the Saudi government or even the Turkish government is offering a comment on it. (Of course, the fact that nobody is denying it either might fuel some suspicions.) The columnist who published the article, Abdulkadir Selvi, offers generalities, repeatedly writing “it is being said…” without mentioning who was doing the talking. And if we were actually listening to the Crown Prince’s phone calls, do you think the head of the CIA would confirm that to Turkey?

Also worth noting is the fact that the newspaper is hardly independent. It’s only in operation because it’s a mouthpiece for Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He’s not only antagonistic toward Saudi Arabia but is rather peeved at Washington these days over our refusal to extradite Fethullah Gulen. It’s not unreasonable to suspect that Turkey might plant a story like this just to cause more mischief between the United States and Saudi Arabia.

But as I said, it could be legitimate. That possibility raises some thorny issues. For one thing, it would offer confirmation that we’re tapping the phones of the Saudi ambassador in Washington. (I wouldn’t exactly faint from shock if that turned out to be true, but it would be embarrassing.) It would also put more pressure on President Trump to do something more forceful in terms of condemning and/or punishing Salman for ordering the hit. He’s unlikely to agree, as we’ve already seen, but it would stir up more trouble between our countries. (Something that wouldn’t upset Turkey one bit.)

This entire story is already so strange that we can’t rule out anything at this point. But for the time being, I’ll wait until we at least get some sort of confirmation from one of the key players before we take this as fact.