BY MATTHEW LEE AND DARLENE SUPERVILLE, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump acknowledged Thursday it “certainly looks” as though missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is dead, and he threatened “very severe” consequences if the Saudis are found to have murdered him. His warning came as the administration toughened its response to a disappearance that has sparked global outrage.
Before Trump spoke, the administration announced that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had pulled out of a major upcoming Saudi investment conference and a U.S. official said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had warned the Saudi crown prince that his credibility as a future leader is at stake.
Pompeo said the Saudis should be given a few more days to finish and make public a credible investigation before the U.S. decides “how or if” to respond. Trump’s comments, however, signaled an urgency in completing the probe into the disappearance of the journalist, last seen entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.
The messaging underscored the administration’s concern about the effect the case could have on relations with a close and valuable strategic partner. Increasingly upset U.S. lawmakers are condemning the Saudis and questioning the seriousness with which Trump and his top aides are taking the matter, while Trump has emphasized the billions of dollars in weapons the Saudis purchase from the United States.
Turkish reports say Khashoggi, who had written columns critical of the Saudi government for The Washington Post over the past year while he lived in self-imposed exile in the U.S., was killed and dismembered inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul by members of an assassination squad with ties to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The Saudis have dismissed those reports as baseless but have yet to explain what happened to the writer.
Trump, who has insisted that more facts must be known before making assumptions, did not say on what he based his latest statement about the writer’s likely demise.
Asked if Khashoggi was dead, he said, “It certainly looks that way. … Very sad.”
Asked what consequence Saudi leaders would face if they are found to be responsible, he replied: “It will have to be very severe. It’s bad, bad stuff. But we’ll see what happens.”
Vice President Mike Pence said earlier in Colorado that “the world deserves answers” about what happened to Khashoggi, “and those who are responsible need to be held to account.”
In Istanbul, a leaked surveillance photo showed a man who has been a member of the crown prince’s entourage during trips abroad walking into the Saudi Consulate just before Khashoggi vanished there — timing that drew the kingdom’s heir-apparent closer to the columnist’s apparent demise.