WASHINGTON — John R. Bolton, President Trump’s national security adviser, defended on Tuesday the fact that neither Mr. Trump nor top national security officials had listened to audio of the killing of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, saying that they did not speak Arabic and would not be able to understand what was on the tape.
During a nearly hourlong briefing focused on foreign policy, Mr. Bolton took the lectern at the White House and declined to answer repeated questions about why he had not listened to the recording provided by Turkish officials of the killing inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
“Why do you think I should?” Mr. Bolton asked reporters, suggesting he could read a transcript instead. “People who speak Arabic have listened to the tape, and they’ve given us the substance of what’s in it.”
Mr. Bolton’s comments came as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis were preparing to brief the Senate on Wednesday about the circumstances surrounding Mr. Khashoggi’s death, which has prompted outrage among members of Congress.
Mr. Trump has absolved the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, in the killing, putting the president at odds with those lawmakers and the C.I.A., which concluded that Prince Mohammed had ordered the killing.
“It could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event,” Mr. Trump said last week in an extraordinary statement in defense of the Saudis. “Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!”
Mr. Bolton indicated that the president’s views have remained unchanged since then. “The president has spoken to our position on this issue,” Mr. Bolton said. “That is our position.”
The recording is seen by intelligence officials as some of the strongest evidence linking Prince Mohammed to the killing. People familiar with recordings of the killing say that Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, a security officer who frequently traveled with the prince, can be heard in one recording making a phone call to someone believed to be one of the prince’s aides.
While translations of the Arabic may differ, the people briefed on the call said Mr. Mutreb said to the aide words to the effect of “the deed was done.”
Gina Haspel, the C.I.A. director, took two experts in Arabic with her to Turkey when she listened to the audio, according to American officials. Neither Ms. Haspel nor other intelligence officials will join Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Mattis at the briefing Wednesday, according to American officials.
Intelligence briefings to Congress are typically kept separate from policy briefings, and some officials did not think it would be appropriate to have a senior intelligence leader join the two cabinet secretaries.
Congressional officials said Ms. Haspel would have also faced questions about her visit to Turkey that she would have been barred from sharing with a large group of lawmakers.
“I’m glad that Pompeo and Mattis are coming, that’s going to be helpful,” said Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “But I just think it’d be better if the C.I.A. director was here, who basically did the assessment.”
The White House briefing — one of only a few held this fall as the president’s aides have traded briefings for more presidential interviews and news conferences — came in advance of Mr. Trump’s trip this week to the Group of 20 summit meeting of the world’s largest economies in Argentina.
The president’s aggressive stance on trade, his reluctance to acknowledge climate change and rising tensions between the United States and China, a crucial trading partner, are likely to be key focuses among Group of 20 leaders.
While in Argentina, Mr. Trump is also expected to meet for the second time this year with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. Mr. Bolton said that the two leaders would discuss “security issues” and “arms control issues,” but declined to say whether Mr. Trump would press Mr. Putin on Russia’s growing aggression in Ukraine, including the seizure of three Ukrainian naval vessels and more than 20 sailors.
On Ukraine, Mr. Bolton deferred to the departing United Nations ambassador, Nikki R. Haley, who on Monday called Russia’s actions a move of an “outlaw” country.