WASHINGTON -- Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman described slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi as a dangerous Islamist days after his disappearance in a phone call with President Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner and national security adviser John Bolton, according to people familiar with the discussion.
In the call, which occurred before the kingdom publicly acknowledged killing Khashoggi, the crown prince urged Kushner and Bolton to preserve the U.S.-Saudi alliance and said the journalist was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, a group long opposed by Bolton and other senior Trump officials.
The attempt to criticize Khashoggi in private stands in contrast to the Saudi government's later public statements decrying the journalist's death as a "terrible mistake" and a "terrible tragedy."
"The incident that happened is very painful, for all Saudis," the crown prince, the kingdom's unofficial leader, said during a panel discussion last week. "The incident is not justifiable."
The Saudi ambassador to the United States, Khalid bin Salman, described Khashoggi last month as a "friend" who dedicated "a great portion of his life to serve his country."
In a statement released to The Washington Post, Khashoggi's family called the characterization of the columnist as dangerous Islamist inaccurate.
"Jamal Khashoggi was not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. He denied such claims repeatedly over the past several years," the family said. "Jamal Khashoggi was not a dangerous person in any way possible. To claim otherwise would be ridiculous."
A person familiar with the discussion said Bolton did not signal he endorsed the crown prince's characterization of Khashoggi during the call.
A Saudi official on Wednesday denied that the crown prince made the allegations, saying "routine calls do exist from time to time" with the young leader and top U.S. officials, but "no such commentary was conveyed."
Saudi Arabia has faced international condemnation for its shifting accounts of Khashoggi's Oct. 2 disappearance at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. The kingdom initially said Khashoggi walked out of the consulate unharmed, then announced that Saudi agents killed him in an accidental fistfight and more recently cited Turkish evidence that his killing was "premeditated."
Analysts said the crown prince's efforts to discredit Khashoggi in private suggested a two-faced attempt at damage control. "This is character assassination added to premeditated murder," said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA official and scholar at the Brookings Institution.
The White House declined to discuss sensitive conversations with the Saudis or to say how many phone calls the crown prince and Kushner have had since Khashoggi's disappearance. The two men have had multiple discussions, according to people familiar with the matter.
Officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive topic.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a rival of the Saudi crown prince, has called for Saudi Arabia to be held accountable for the killing. Erdogan called Trump on Thursday morning, according to people familiar with the conversation.
Information for this article was contributed by Karen DeYoung and Tom Hamburger of The Washington Post.
A Section on 11/02/2018
Print Headline: Prince said to deride slain journalist in call