ROUGH CUT (NO REPORTER NARRATION) President Donald Trump vowed on Tuesday to remain a "steadfast partner" of Saudi Arabia despite saying that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman may have known about the plan to murder dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi last month.
Defying intense pressure from U.S. lawmakers to impose tougher sanctions on Saudi Arabia, Trump also said he would not cancel military contracts with the kingdom, claiming it would be a "foolish" move that would only benefit Russia and China.
Trump said U.S. intelligence agencies were still studying the evidence around Khashoggi's murder inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct.
2 and who planned it.
"It could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event - maybe he did and maybe he didn't!" Trump said in a statement issued by the White House.
His comments contradicted the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which believes Khashoggi's death was ordered directly by the crown prince, who is Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler and is widely known by his initials MbS.
Trump was quickly accused by Democratic lawmakers of undermining his own intelligence agencies and failing to confront Saudi Arabia over a human rights atrocity.
"Human rights is more than just a phrase, it has to mean something.
And that means standing up and condemning a brazen murder by a foreign government.
Everyone who played a role in this killing must be held accountable," Senator Dianne Feinstein said.
Democratic and Republican lawmakers have urged Trump to drop his support for MbS over the Khashoggi case, but the president has been reluctant.
Trump said on Tuesday that both Saudi Arabia's King Salman and MbS "vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder," and that the truth may never be known.