Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser, declined to say Monday whether he believes Saudi Arabia’s account that Jamal Khashoggi accidentally died after an altercation inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul earlier this month.
“I’d say that right now, as an administration, we’re more in the fact-finding phase,” Kushner said when asked about the death of Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributing columnist, in an interview at an event in New York hosted by CNN. “Once we have all the facts, we’ll make an assessment.”
Turkish investigators allege that 15 Saudi agents killed Khashoggi, who was living in exile in the United States, shortly after he entered the consulate.
According to the Saudi account, Khashoggi’s death followed a fistfight with a team that was sent to negotiate his return. But Saudi officials have refused to answer questions about what happened to Khashoggi’s remains, fueling already widespread condemnation of the killing.
Kushner, who has cultivated a close partnership with the heir to the Saudi throne, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, said he has advised him to be “fully transparent.”
“The world is watching. This is a very, very serious accusation,” Kushner said.
Asked by CNN’s Van Jones how the crown prince responded to his advice, Kushner said: “We’ll see.”
Kushner declined to discuss any advice he has given Trump on the matter, saying it is his practice to keep such discussions private.
Asked whether he trusts Saudi Arabia to investigate an event in which they are involved, Kushner said, “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 and what we think is credible and what we think is not credible,” he said.
Jones also asked Kushner what he thought about critics who have suggested that the crown prince felt emboldened to order Khashoggi’s death because of his relationship with Kushner.
“I don’t respond to the critics,” Kushner said.
He also said that Saudi Arabia has been “a very strong ally” and that the administration is mindful of its strategic interests in the Middle East.
“I think the president is focused on what’s good for America,” Kushner said. “The Middle East is a rough place. It’s been a rough place for a very long time. We have to be able to pursue our strategic objectives. But we also have to deal with what is obviously a terrible situation.”
The interview touched on several other subjects, and at one point, while discussing next month’s midterm elections, Kushner referred to his father-in-law as a “black swan,” shorthand for an unforeseen event with extreme consequences.
When Jones asked whether Democrats would prevail, Kushner replied, “I don’t know, I mean, I see mixed data.”
“The data that we look at shows that it’s all about the turnout models,” he added. “So I think people who have different turnout models will show different things, but one thing I’ve learned is I wouldn’t bet against Trump. He’s a black swan. He’s been a black swan all his life. And I just see, in politics and business, I just don’t like betting against him.”
Erin Cunningham in Istanbul contributed to this report.