U.S. President Donald Trump said Wednesday he wants audio and video intelligence from Turkey “if it exists” regarding the disappearance of a U.S.-based Saudi journalist whom Turkish officials say was killed and dismembered by Saudi agents inside Riyadh’s consulate in Istanbul.
Trump’s demand at the White House came as he expressed support for Saudi Arabia, a longtime U.S. ally, and said he expects its investigation into the missing journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, would be completed by the end of the week. Saudi Arabia has denied Khashoggi was killed.
When questioned on what he would do if the Saudi investigation showed that Saudi leaders King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman were responsible, Trump told Fox Business in an earlier interview, “Well, I hope we’re going to be on the better side of the equation.”
“You know we need Saudi Arabia in terms of our fight against all of the terrorism, everything that’s happening in Iran and other places,” Trump said.
When asked if the U.S. would distance itself from Saudi Arabia over the Khashoggi case, Trump said, “I do not want to do that and frankly they have a tremendous order, $110 billion,” referring to a promised Saudi purchase of U.S.-made weaponry in the coming years.
“It is 500,000 jobs, it will be ultimately $110 billion. It’s the biggest order in the history of our country from an outside military, and I said we are going to turn that down?” he added.
“So hopefully it is working out. We’ll find out, we’ll get down to the bottom of it,” Trump said of the Saudi investigation. “I hope that the king and the crown prince didn’t know about it. That is a big factor in my eyes, and I hope they haven’t.”
Trump’s assessment came as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo completed visits to Saudi Arabia and Turkey for talks with the Saudi leaders and with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu about the disappearance of Khashoggi, who was last seen October 2 walking into the Saudi consulate.
Pompeo, heading back to Washington, told reporters that the U.S. needs “to know the facts before we can begin to formulate what the appropriate response” would be if Saudi Arabia is responsible for Khashoggi’s disappearance.
“I do think it’s important that everyone … keep in their mind that we have lots of important relationships — financial relationships between U.S. and Saudi companies, governmental relationship, things we work on together all across the world,” Pompeo said. “The efforts to reduce the risk to the United States of America from the world’s largest state sponsor of terror, Iran — the Saudis have been great partners in working alongside us on those issues.
“I … could go on about places where the Saudis and the Americans are working together,” the top U.S. diplomat said. “Those are important elements of U.S. national policy that are for, are in Americans’ best interests. And we just need to make sure that we are mindful of that as we approach decisions that the United States government will take when we learn all of the facts associated with whatever may have taken place.”
Earlier, Pompeo said that when he met with Saudi leaders, they did not want to talk about any of the facts involving Khashoggi’s disappearance.
As he headed to Ankara to talk to the Turkish leaders about their investigation regarding the missing journalist, Pompeo said that the Saudi monarch and his son assured him they “would show the entire world” the results of their investigation.
Pompeo said the Saudis committed to holding accountable “anyone connected to any wrongdoing that may be found,” making no exceptions for anyone, including members of the royal family.
When asked whether the Saudi officials told him whether Khashoggi is alive or dead, Pompeo said, “I don’t want to talk about any of the facts. They didn’t want to either, in that they want to have the opportunity to complete this investigation in a thorough way.”
The Wall Street Journal reported late Tuesday that Saudi operatives beat and drugged Khashoggi, then killed and dismembered him, with pro-government media in Turkey publishing similar accounts. The U.S. newspaper said Turkish officials have shared evidence, including details of an audio recording, with Saudi and U.S. officials.
When asked what gave him the benefit of the doubt in believing Saudi Arabia’s account that it was not involved in Khashoggi’s disappearance, Pompeo said, “I’m waiting for the investigation to be completed. They promised that they would achieve that, and I’m counting on it, and they gave me their word. And we’ll all get to see if they deliver against that commitment.”
A critic of the Saudi monarchy who wrote for The Washington Post, Khashoggi was last seen October 2 entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Turkish officials have said 15 Saudi agents, who arrived in Istanbul the same day, killed Khashoggi, while Saudi officials say he walked out of the consulate on his own. Neither country has publicly offered evidence of its version of events.
The New York Times and the Post both reported late Tuesday that several people from the list of Saudi agents are linked to Saudi security services and the crown prince.
Turkish investigators on Wednesday scoured the residence of Saudi consul general Mohammed al-Otaibi for evidence in the case, after doing the same at the consulate Tuesday. The Saudi envoy left Istanbul for Riyadh on Tuesday.
While Trump has voiced support for Saudi Arabia as the investigation continues, some U.S. lawmakers have all but accepted Turkey’s version of the events — that a team of Saudi agents arrived in Istanbul and killed Khashoggi when he went to the consulate to pick up documents he needed to marry his fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, a Turkish national who waited in vain for Khashoggi to emerge from the consulate.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said Tuesday the United States should “sanction the hell out of Saudi Arabia” over the incident and that he would never again work with the crown prince, assailing him as “toxic” and calling him a “wrecking ball.”
Ken Bredemeier, Chris Hannas and State Department correspondent Nike Ching contributed to this report.