WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s national security adviser on Tuesday defended his decision not to listen to an audio recording of the killing of a Saudi journalist, saying he chose not to listen because he doesn’t speak Arabic.
“What am I going to learn from — if they were speaking Korean, I wouldn’t learn any more from it either,” John Bolton told journalists at a White House briefing. Bolton added he was able to get all the information he needed by reading a transcript of the recording.
“People who speak Arabic have listened to the tape and they have given us the substance of what’s in it,” Bolton said. When pressed on the issue, Bolton said he believed he has a full understanding of what is on the audio recording. “I’m very satisfied that we know what the tape picked up and it was factored into the president’s decision and he’s announced his position very clearly,” he said.
The audio recording quickly emerged as a key piece of evidence amid conflicting accounts of Jamal Khashsoggi’s murder at a Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey in October. Saudi officials initially claimed Khashoggi left the consulate before later saying he was killed in a botched operation aimed at forcibly bringing the writer back to the kingdom.
U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman must have at least known about the plot to kill Khashoggi, prompting calls by many in Congress for the U.S. to take a tougher stance with the key Gulf ally.
Trump has indicated the U.S. will not further punish Saudi Arabia. The president has said the benefits of good relations with the kingdom outweigh the possibility its crown prince ordered the killing.
In a statement last week on the possibility the crown prince ordered the killing, Trump said “maybe he did, maybe he didn’t.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan frequently references the audio recording in an attempt to drum up pressure on Saudi Arabia, a key regional foe.
“The recording is truly atrocious,” Erdogan was reported as saying in comments published in pro-government newspaper Yeni Safak. “In fact, when the Saudi intelligence officer listened to the recording he was so shocked that he said ‘this one probably took heroin. Only someone who took heroin would do it.'”