Trump says Saudis staged 'worst cover up ever' on Khashoggi

WASHINGTON, Oct 23 (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that Saudi authorities staged the "worst cover-up ever" in the killing of prominent journalist Jamal Khashoggi this month.

Asked by a reporter in the White House Oval Office how the Khashoggi killing could have happened, Trump said: "They had a very bad original concept. It was carried out poorly, and the cover-up was one of the worst in the history of cover-ups."

Khashoggi's death in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 has caused global outrage and strained relations between Riyadh and Washington. Khashoggi, a critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was a U.S. resident and columnist for The Washington Post.

Trump's comments about the incident in recent days have ranged from threatening Saudi Arabia with "very severe" consequences and mentioning possible economic sanctions, to more conciliatory remarks highlighting the country's role as a U.S. ally against Iran and Islamist militants, as well as a major purchaser of U.S. arms.

On Tuesday, Trump said the Khashoggi matter was handled badly by Saudi officials. "Bad deal, should have never been thought of. Somebody really messed up. And they had the worst cover-up ever," Trump said.

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Saudi prince meets with Khashoggi family members
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Saudi prince meets with Khashoggi family members
Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud , Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman receives Khashoggi family in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia October 23, 2018. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets with Khashoggi family in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia October 23, 2018. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud , Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman receive Khashoggi family in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia October 23, 2018. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud , Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman receive Khashoggi family in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia October 23, 2018. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
In this photo released by Saudi Press Agency, SPA, Saudi King Salman, right, and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, second right, receive Sahel, a family member, and Salah, a son, of Jamal Khashoggi, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018. Saudi Arabia, which for weeks maintained that Jamal Khashoggi had left the Istanbul consulate, on Saturday acknowledged he was killed there in a "fistfight." (Saudi Press Agency via AP)
In this photo released by Saudi Press Agency, SPA, Saudi King Salman, right, points to Salah, a son, of Jamal Khashoggi as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, second right, looks on, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018. Saudi Arabia, which for weeks maintained that Jamal Khashoggi had left the Istanbul consulate, on Saturday acknowledged he was killed there in a "fistfight." (Saudi Press Agency via AP)
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Riyadh initially denied knowledge of Khashoggi's fate before saying he was killed in a fight in the consulate, a reaction that has met with skepticism from several Western governments, straining their relations with the world's biggest oil exporter.

The kingdom has since changed parts of its official narrative about the killing, further deepening international concern.

(Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara, Ezgi Erkoyun, Daren Butler, Ali Kucukgocmen and Sarah Dadouch in Istanbul and Susan Heavey in Washington Writing by David Dolan and Alistair Bell Editing by Yara Bayoumy and Will Dunham)

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