Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner claims he advised Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to be “fully transparent” in his investigation of a Saudi journalist’s death.
The presidential adviser, 37, who is married to Ivanka Trump, is a close enough friend with the Saudi prince that the two men reportedly exchange private messages on WhatsApp.
They have also visited each other’s capitals and reportedly discussed strategies for the Middle East.
According to CNN sources, Mr Kushner “has remained intentionally in the background as West Wing officials feared a more public role would prompt backlash” after the death of Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi embassy in Istanbul.
But after coming under fire for cultivating ties with the powerful royal, known as ‘MBS’, Mr Kushner admitted to CNN on Monday (US time) he had a phone call with the prince on October 10, eight days after Mr Khashoggi’s disappearance.
“The world is watching,” Mr Kushner said was his advice to the young leader, 33.
“This is a very, very serious accusation. A very serious situation. To be sure you’re transparent and to take this very seriously.”
When asked if he thinks the prince will take his advice on board, Mr Kushner said, “We’ll see.”
CNN's Van Jones: “Do you trust the Saudis to investigate themselves?”
Jared Kushner: “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” #CITIZENCNN pic.twitter.com/JW8MDkHl3J
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) October 22, 2018
The Wall Street Journal claimed the phone call between the two men happened after Turkish investigators began to reveal their findings about Mr Khashoggi’s death.
The Saudi leader was perplexed and annoyed that the incident had escalated into a diplomatic crisis and needed the White House adviser to explain it to him, according to the newspaper.
He dialled Mr Kushner, asking for the outrage to be explained, the Wall Street Journal said. It reported the prince was struggling to understand why business and political leaders were boycotting him.
“He was really shocked,” a source said.
Defending the long-standing Washington-Riyadh alliance, Mr Kushner told CNN the Trump administration was still in the “fact-finding phase” regarding the death of Washington Post columnist Mr Khashoggi, 59.
“The Middle East is a rough place,” he told the network’s Van Jones.
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.”
Added Mr Kushner, “We’re getting as many facts as we can, then we’ll determine which facts are credible.”
The comments came during the opening session of a conference organised by CNN a fortnight before the 2018 US midterm elections.
Turkish sources say surveillance footage shows a Saudi ‘body double’ wearing Mr Khashoggi’s clothes and a fake beard after he was killed.
The Saudi government has detained 18 people in connection with Mr Khashoggi’s murder. Multiple companies are cutting business ties with the kingdom.
Representatives from Western news outlets, including The New York Times, The Financial Times, Bloomberg and The Economist, have withdrawn from an upcoming international conference to be hosted by the Crown Prince, according to Axios.
And according to The Hollywood Reporter, Los Angeles agency Endeavor Content is pulling out of a $US560 million ($A789m) investment deal in Saudi Arabia.
Two inside sources said Prince bin Salman “feels betrayed by the West”.
“He said he would look elsewhere and he will never forget how people turned against him before evidence was produced.”