The bromance that stunned the world
An explosive New York Times report has revealed Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner kept in touch with the Crown Prince and even offered him advice following the murder of a prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
According to a Saudi source, the pair had private, informal conversations in breach of White House protocol, with Mr Kushner reportedly becoming his "most important defender inside the White House".
The Times report detailed an alleged years-long effort by the Saudis to bring the 37-year-old to their side, including a meeting with the Crown Prince's top aides that took place the same month Mr Trump won the election.
Evidently it was a success, with text messages, emails and comments from former officials showing the pair have stayed in close contact for almost two years.
Mr Kushner - who is the husband of Mr Trump's eldest daughter Ivanka - offered bin Salman advice on how to "weather the storm" after it was revealed the Washington Post columnist was murdered.
Based on White House protocol, every correspondence between White House staff and foreign officials is supposed to be monitored by the National Security Council.
But a White House spokesman denied that Kushner violated this rule.
"Jared has always meticulously followed protocols and guidelines regarding the relationship with MBS and all of the other foreign officials with whom he interacts," that spokesman said.
The administration acknowledged one phone call between the two since Khashoggi's disappearance, which took place on October 9, a week after his murder.
Another potentially problematic reason with their communication is that it's widely accepted bin Salman played an instrumental role in Khashoggi's murder.
Even Mr Trump - who for a long time defended the Crown Prince to protect America's economic interests in the Saudi kingdom - admitted that the Prince "could very well" have known in advance about the plan to kill the columnist.
"Maybe he did and maybe he didn't," Mr Trump said.
"That being said, we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr Jamal Khashoggi. In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia."
The CIA, other intelligence communities around the world and a number of US senators have all concluded that the Crown Prince was definitely involved in the murder.
Three former senior US officials told the Times that Mr Kushner could have been vulnerable to manipulation by the Saudis based on his lack of political experience.
This isn't the first report to detail private chats between Mr Kushner and the Saudis. In October, CNN reported their conversations were causing concern among senior US natural security officials who "worried off-the-books conversations with the young prince could lead to misunderstandings or worse".
It's also been reported that they often text each other over WhatsApp.
In a recent interview with The Atlantic, outgoing United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley said the US would not give the Saudis "a pass", saying that the Crown prince's "government did this, and so technically he is responsible".
KHASHOGGI'S FINAL WORDS REVEALED
Jamal Khashoggi's final words were "I can't breathe," CNN said Sunday, citing a source who has read the transcript of an audiotape of the final moments before the journalist's murder.
The source told the US network the transcript made clear the killing was premeditated, and suggests several phone calls were made to give briefings on the progress.
CNN said Turkish officials believe those calls were made to top officials in Riyadh.
Khashoggi was killed shortly after entering the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul on October 2.
The transcript of the gruesome recording includes descriptions of Khashoggi struggling against his murderers, CNN said, and references sounds of the dissident journalist's body "being dismembered by a saw."
The original transcript was prepared by Turkish intelligence services, and CNN said its source read a translation version and was briefed on the probe into the journalist's death.
Over the weekend, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir rejected demands to extradite suspects connected to the murder of Khashoggi as sought by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
"We do not extradite our citizens," Mr al-Jubeir told a news conference in Riyadh at the end of a summit of Gulf Cooperation Council states.
Mr Erdogan has repeatedly called on Saudi Arabia to hand over suspects in the killing. According to Turkey, a 15-member Saudi team was sent to Istanbul to kill Khashoggi.
Saudi Arabia, however, holds that it was a "rogue" operation gone wrong - a claim undercut by the reported transcript.
The murder has damaged Riyadh's international reputation and Western countries including the United States, France and Canada have placed sanctions on nearly 20 Saudi nationals.
- with wires