WASHINGTON: The Trump administration on Saturday invited widespread ridicule as it accepted the explanation from the Saudi monarchy that dissident writer Jamal Khashoggi was killed accidentally during a fistfight at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2.
A statement from the Saudi public prosecutor said "preliminary investigations ... into the disappearance case of the citizen Jamal bin Ahmad Khashoggi revealed that the discussions that took place between him and the persons who met him during his attendance in the Kingdom's consulate in Istanbul led to a quarrel and a brawl with the citizen /Jamal Khashoggi, resulted in his death."
Asked if he accepted the Saudi statement, President Trump simply said, "I do."
White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders said in a statement that the United States "acknowledges the Saudi announcement that its investigation into the fate of Jamal Khashoggi is progressing and that it has taken action against the suspects it has identified so far."
But the Trump White House was trashed by critics, including lawmakers from both parties, for the sheer credulity with which it accepted what many see as a brazen cover up.
“To say that I am skeptical of the new Saudi narrative about Mr. Khashoggi is an understatement.
It’s hard to find this latest ‘explanation’ as credible," said Linsdey Graham, a Republican Senator close to President Trump.
Others poured scorn at Trump and his family for selling out human rights and concern for a US resident (Khashoggi lived in Virginia) on account of business interests.
One Democratic lawmaker went so far as to allege, on the basis of unsubstantiated media reports, that President Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner somehow orchestrated the killing, drawing a furious response from the White House.
But from cartoons to critics to commentators, there was widespread skepticism about the Saudi explanation and the credulous manner in which the Trump establishment accepted it.
One cartoon showed Khashoggi being beheaded by a Saudi royal with Trump in the background saying the press is the enemy of the people -- a statement he routinely makes about the US media.
Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident who fell out with the reigning monarchy, was also a columnist for the Washington Post.
On Twitter, the Saudi explanation that a brawl led to Khashoggi's death was mocked mercilessly, with many posts wondering why some 15 men who reportedly questioned Khashoggi in the consulate in Istanbul couldn't do so without a bone saw, which they purportedly came armed with and used against the dissident.
The terms #fistfight and #bonesaw have trended on social media after horrific accounts have emerged that Saudi interrogators sawed off Khashoggi's fingers and decapitated him while he was still alive.
The Saudis have also not provided clarity about what happened to Khashoggi's body remains -- whether it was disposed of in Istanbul or transported back to Saudi Arabia, likely in pieces.
"Where is the body? #Khashoggi’s family deserve immediate custody of the remains as they seek some measure of closure," one US lawmaker tweeted.