After threatening to take action against Saudi Arabia over the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, President Trump appeared to accept the kingdom’s official denial Monday, suggesting to reporters that a team of “rogue killers” may have been responsible.
Khashoggi, a longtime journalist whose ties to the Saudi royal family had been frayed by his increasing willingness to criticize the family’s governance of the country, entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 to finalize paperwork he needed to marry his fiancée, but never emerged. Turkish officials claim he was murdered and dismembered inside the consulate by a team of Saudi assassins dispatched to Turkey at Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s request.
“I just spoke to the King of Saudi Arabia, who denies any knowledge of what took place with regard to, as he said, his Saudi Arabian citizen. He firmly denies that,” Trump told reporters outside the White House. “We are going to leave nothing uncovered. With that being said, the king firmly denies any knowledge of it. . . . It sounded to me like this could have been rogue killers. Who knows? We’re going to try getting to the bottom of it. But his was a flat denial.”
Trump added that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is scheduled to travel to Saudi Arabia Monday afternoon to further investigate Khashoggi’s disappearance.
The comments came after the president endorsed the “rogue killers” theory in a Monday morning tweet.
Just spoke to the King of Saudi Arabia who denies any knowledge of whatever may have happened “to our Saudi Arabian citizen.” He said that they are working closely with Turkey to find answer. I am immediately sending our Secretary of State to meet with King!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 15, 2018
Pres. Trump suggests "rogue killers" may have been responsible for Jamal Khashoggi's disappearance, citing that the King of Saudi Arabia "firmly denied" any knowledge of what happened to the Washington Post columnist. https://t.co/P2RQdnaDXf pic.twitter.com/juOSd6KqE0
— CBS Evening News (@CBSEveningNews) October 15, 2018
The president’s apparent acceptance of bin Salman’s denial comes after he threatened “severe punishment” if the Saudi government is found responsible during a 60 Minutes interview that aired Sunday.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have grown increasingly vocal in their criticism of Saudi officials in recent days, calling on the kingdom to release any evidence — such as surveillance footage — that might corroborate their claim that Khashoggi left the embassy under his own power.
Democratic senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut criticized Trump for accepting Saudi officials’ claims in a Monday tweet.
Been hearing the ridiculous “rogue killers” theory was where the Saudis would go with this. Absolutely extaordinary they were able to enlist the President of the United States as their PR agent to float it. https://t.co/ChRFyleneR
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) October 15, 2018
The increased scrutiny threatens to derail substantial U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia, though Trump ruled out the possibility of cutting off such sales completely during the 60 Minutes interview, claiming that the negative impact such a move would have on U.S. employment made it infeasible.