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Photo: Ahmet Bolat/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A slow drip of leaked intelligence from U.S. and Turkish officials has fueled a growing consensus that Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi journalist, was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN today: “My instincts say there's no question the Saudi government did this."

Why it matters: If the reports are correct, Khashoggi's murder could spark a full-blown diplomatic crisis that pits the U.S. against an ally the Trump administration has made "the fulcrum of [its] Middle East policy," per the NY Times. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), who has carried out a massive global PR push and built a close relationship with Jared Kushner, is likely to face unprecedented backlash from the international community if he’s unable to provide answers.

What we know: Khashoggi is a Saudi citizen and Washington Post opinion columnist who had been living in self-imposed exile in Virginia. Once a close adviser to the Saudi royal family, he had grown increasingly critical of the government.

  • On Oct. 2, Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to retrieve marriage documents. His Turkish fiancee waited for him outside for 10 hours, but Khashoggi never came out.

Turkish authorities claim a team of 15 Saudi men were flown into Istanbul in order to carry out a plot to assassinate Khashoggi inside the consulate. Much of the reporting of what happened to Khashoggi has come via anonymous Turkish officials.

  • Middle East Eye, a London-based news organization, reports that Turkish investigators believe Khashoggi was murdered, dismembered and transported to the home of the consul general, where he may be buried. Investigators reportedly claim they have video and audio evidence of the killing.
  • NBC News has published text screenshots that show Khashoggi checked his cell phone just before entering the consulate, but has not read any messages since.
  • WashPost claims that U.S. intelligence intercepts show MBS had previously ordered an operation to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia to be arrested. Per the Post, this has fueled speculation that whatever happened inside the consulate was a backup plan to capture Khashoggi, and that it somehow went wrong.

What they're saying:

  • President Trump told Fox & Friends Thursday that American relations with the Saudis are "excellent," and that it would be "a very sad thing" if Khashoggi's murder was ordered by MBS: "We want to find out what happened. He went in, and it doesn’t look like he came out. It certainly doesn’t look like he’s around.”
    • On Wednesday, Trump told Fox News that he would not commit to halting weapons sales to Saudi Arabia before knowing what happened: "Part of that is what we are doing with our defense systems and everybody is wanting them and frankly, I think that would be very, very tough pill to swallow for our country."
  • 22 senators signed a letter Wednesday demanding Trump open an investigation under the Magnitsky Act, which would give the president 120 days to determine whether to trigger sanctions against any foreign person involved in Khashoggi's disappearance.
  • Saudi officials have denied involvement and provided "little information" in calls with Mike Pompeo, John Bolton and Jared Kushner, who have asked for transparency in the investigation process.

The latest: Axios' Haley Britzky asked the Pentagon whether it would consider pulling back support for the Saudis "until we have answers about Jamal Khashoggi." She received a one word reply: "No."

Go deeper

23 mins ago - Health

Omicron hits American hospitals disproportionately hard

Expand chart
Data: Our World in Data; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

America is seeing more COVID hospitalizations than other wealthy countries during the Omicron surge, according to Our World in Data.

Why it matters: Vaccines keep the vast majority of COVID cases out of the hospital, but vaccination rates are also lower in the U.S. than these other countries.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: The end of the Omicron wave is in sight — Transplants rebound from COVID lull.
  2. Vaccines: WHO: No evidence that healthy children, teens need boosters — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden to announce plan to distribute 400 million masks for free — Government website for free COVID tests launches early.
  4. World: WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older.
  5. Variant tracker

University of Michigan reaches $490M settlement in sex abuse case

Jon Vaughn, a former University of Michigan and NFL football player, speaks at a press conference in Ann Arbor, Mich., in June 2021. Photo: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

The University of Michigan on Wednesday reached a $490 million settlement with over a thousand survivors who allege that they were sexually assaulted by a former physician in the school's athletic department.

Driving the news: "It's been a long and challenging journey and these survivors have refused to remain silent," attorney Parker Stinar said Wednesday.