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Turkey Withheld Some Details On Khashoggi's Death, Rep. Schiff Says


Turkey's president has offered new details on the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke to Turkey's Parliament this morning.


PRESIDENT RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN: (Through interpreter) It is not going to satisfy either us nor the international community that this was just a rogue operation by a few.

KING: Erdogan also said that he has clear evidence that the killing was premeditated. Saudi officials, meanwhile, now say that Khashoggi was killed in a rogue operation by individuals who were acting without the knowledge of the crown prince. And members of the Saudi royal family reportedly met with some of Khashoggi's relatives today. However, officials in that government first said Khashoggi left the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul alive.

All of this has prompted many U.S. officials to question the U.S.-Saudi relationship, including Congressman Adam Schiff. He's a Democrat of California, and he's the ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. He joined us earlier in the day.

So what did we learn in Erdogan's remarks today?

ADAM SCHIFF: We learned that the Turks have additional details, only some of which they've shared with the public, about the premeditated nature of this killing - that the team actually didn't all head over at the same time, that part of the team went over earlier and may have done reconnaissance in a force to determine where to dispose of the body. They brought with them a body double. There are images of that body double in Khashoggi's clothes. So they gave a lot of added detail. But they still withheld some of the key evidence that they claim to have, which is either audio or video recordings of the killing.

KING: Does what Erdogan said today square with what you've been told by the U.S. intelligence community?

SCHIFF: It's certainly far more credible than the Saudi account. But, you know, I have to say that the Turks don't come to this with clean hands. After all, this is the same country now demanding extradition of this team from Saudi Arabia that had a team of its own security thugs beat up people in the streets of Washington, D.C., and refused to extradite them. Turkey is also the leading jailer of journalists...

KING: Yeah.

SCHIFF: ...In the world, so it's not as if they're the champions of democracy and human rights and press freedom. But still, their account is far more credible than that of the Saudis.

KING: You believe they're a reliable source in this case?

SCHIFF: I certainly believe that their account seems much more consistent with what we know, what can be proven. But there is still a lot we don't know, still a lot we are taking the Turks' word for. And we need to get to the bottom of this. Obviously, the most pointed question is, does the trail lead back to the deputy crown prince? Was this an order to either capture or kill - to bring him back either in one piece or in multiple pieces, depending on whether he's willing to come back to Saudi Arabia?

KING: CIA Director Gina Haspel flew to Turkey yesterday. What is she doing there?

SCHIFF: Well, I would assume that she went to get a preview of what the prime minister - the Turkish prime minister - was going to say and also to request to review whatever audiotapes or additional evidence that they have so that she could come back and brief the president; this is what took place. The Saudi account is either believable or completely unbelievable. But I assume that she's going to get the best information to provide to I hope not only the president, but also policymakers in Congress that will have to determine a response.

KING: Let's broaden this out to the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia, which is - it's complicated. You were originally in favor of a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen in 2015, which has been responsible for killing tens of thousands of civilians with the help of American weapons. Now, that includes children. Has your position on this coalition changed?

SCHIFF: It has changed. And it certainly changed before the Khashoggi murder.

KING: It did?

SCHIFF: Oh, yes. You know, I think initially the Saudis were intent on pushing back the Houthis, who were trying to take over the country, trying to depose the legitimate government in Yemen and were getting Iranian help to do it. But we've seen over the course of time that the Saudis have become increasingly willing to allow civilian casualties, to bomb more or less indiscriminately. We shouldn't be providing military assistance that enables them to do that.

So I think a re-examination, certainly of our support for Saudi in the war in Yemen, is overdue. But I think what the Khashoggi murder does also is it tells us we need a broader re-examination of our relationship with Saudi Arabia, not just vis-a-vis Yemen. But is this really the country we want to pin our entire Middle East policy on - we want to make decisions about our support or relationship with Qatar on the basis of? So this I think ought to cause us to do a deep-dive examination of Saudi conduct, our relationship with Saudi Arabia across the board and appropriately respond.

KING: Well, Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses are not anything new. And the U.S. has remained a close ally for years. Were you concerned when Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman visited the White House during the Obama administration?

SCHIFF: Well, you know, not concerned, no. I mean, certainly we hoped that the new deputy crown - the new crown prince would bring about changes and reforms in Saudi Arabia. And certainly at times, he has made nods towards reform. And that looked encouraging. Saudi Arabia has been an important ally. But that doesn't mean that we accept everything they do uncritically. And where their prosecution of the war in Yemen is resulting in more and more civilian casualties, we can and must push back and certainly not allow our military assistance to be used to hurt innocent people. So they're an important ally, but they're not one that we want to rely on exclusively for our foreign policy in the region.

KING: Very briefly, there's been partisan disagreement on your committee. Are you in a position to push any action forward on Saudi Arabia?

SCHIFF: We certainly can push for a deep examination of the intelligence related to this incident. But Saudi Arabia more generally - that should have bipartisan support. Certainly the comments and reaction to Khashoggi's murder have been very critical and very bipartisan, as they should be.

KING: Representative Adam Schiff, thank you so much for joining us.

SCHIFF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.