CNN’s Jim Acosta challenged the Trump administration over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at his first official White House briefing since his press pass was restored following a short-lived suspension.
Acosta pressed White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders yesterday over President Trump’s apparent rejection of the CIA’s claim, reported in the US media, that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s murder.
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In reply to Acosta’s (pictured) question, Sanders said: “The President has a great deal of faith in the intelligence community.”
Pressed again on the issue, she added: “We haven’t seen definitive evidence come from our intelligence community that ties him directly to that.”
Khashoggi, a columnist for the Washington Post, was killed on 2 October shortly after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, to obtain divorce documents ahead of his upcoming marriage.
Saudia Arabia’s King Salman and prince Bin Salman have both denied any knowledge of what happened to Khashoggi. Bin Salman has also said Khashoggi’s murder is a “heinous crime that cannot be justified”.
Trump praised Saudi Arabia as a “great ally” in a statement on Khashoggi’s murder issued last week and made no move to punish the Middle Eastern kingdom over its alleged involvement in the killing.
The US President told the Washington Post that he had spoken with Bin Salman and it was a case of “maybe he did and maybe he didn’t” in relation to claims any order to kill Khashoggi would need the prince’s approval.
“But he denies it. And people around him deny it,” Trump told the paper.
“And the CIA did not say affirmatively he did it, either, by the way. I’m not saying that they’re saying he didn’t do it, but they didn’t say it affirmatively.”
Saudi Arabia issued a number of different explanations over Khashoggi’s death, first claiming he left the consulate alive, before later saying it was the result of an unsanctioned operation carried out by 15 individuals.
The kingdom has arrested 18 of its citizens in connection with the killing of Khashoggi, who was an outspoken critic of the Saudi government.
Acosta was banned from the White House for about a week after clashing with Donald Trump during a press conference on 7 November, at which the President labelled him “rude”, following the US midterm elections.
The White House removed Acosta’s pass after the tense exchange, claiming he had put his hands on a staffer when she attempted to take a microphone from him.
Sanders shared a video that claimed to show Acosta chopping at the woman’s arm, but faced accusations it had been doctored to emphasise the action. Trump was forced to deny the video had been tampered with.
CNN and Acosta both issued statements rejecting the White House claims as a lie.
The network then filed a lawsuit against Trump and several of his aides, arguing that its decision to remove Acosta’s pass had breached the First Amendment (on freedom of the press) and Fifth Amendment (on due process) of the US Bill of Rights.
The US network dropped its lawsuit after the White House restored Acosta’s press pass in full at the behest of a judge who upheld a temporary restraining order application by CNN.
But the White House also introduced new rules demanding journalists only ask one question when called upon and surrender the microphone to White House staffers when asked.
The rules outlined that follow-up questions could be permitted at the discretion of the President or White House staffer taking questions.
Guidelines also warned that failure to meet those rules would result in a reporter having their pass suspended or revoked.
It has been suggested that Acosta asking two follow-up questions without pushback is a sign that the new rules will not be upheld.
Picture: Reuters/Carlos Barria