Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, reportedly told the White House that Jamal Khashoggi was a dangerous Islamist in a phone call days after the journalist was murdered.
Crown Prince Mohammed told Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law, and John Bolton, the president’s national security advisor, that Mr Khashoggi was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, according to the Washington Post.
The prince’s private disparagement of the murdered journalist is at odds with his public comments, where he described Mr Khashoggi’s killing as “repulsive” and said it was “very painful for all Saudis”.
His reported comments were made while Saudi Arabia was still claiming that Mr Khashoggi had walked safely out of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, a story that has now changed several times.
The remarks are likely to fuel suspicions among US senators that Crown Prince Mohammed ordered Mr Khashoggi’s death but placed the blame on low-level operatives after the killing led to a diplomatic crisis.
Saudi Arabia has arrested 18 men on suspicion of killing Mr Khashoggi but denied that Crown Prince Mohammed ordered his death or had any involvement in it.
Neither the White House nor Saudi Arabia has commented on the report about the October 9 phone call between Mr Bolton, Mr Kushner and the crown prince.
Mr Khashoggi’s family have consistently denied that he was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group that was once tolerated by Saudi Arabia but is now banned.
The Muslim Brotherhood is not considered a terrorist group by Western countries, although it is banned by several authoritarian regimes in the Middle East, including Egypt and the UAE.
In his writings, Mr Khashoggi expressed sympathy for parts of the group’s agenda and praised Qatar, the only Gulf Arab state to embrace the Brotherhood.
Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, also reportedly called senior White House officials to defend the crown prince and emphasise that Israel sees him as an important partner in the Middle East.
Mr Netanyahu and the White House both consider Crown Prince Mohammed an ally against Iran and hope that he will lead other Arab states in endorsing a US plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Israel’s relationship with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states has been warming in recent years and the once-secret relations are becoming ever more public.
Mr Netanyahu visited Oman last week and two Israeli ministers made trips to the UAE, drawing protests from Palestinians who argued the Arab states were “normalising” relations with Israel while it continues to occupy the West Bank and blockade Gaza.
Turkish investigators are continuing to search for Mr Khashoggi’s body. One line of inquiry is that his Saudi killers dissolved it in acid, although experts said it seemed unlikely they could manage that quickly and within the consulate in Istanbul.