President Donald Trump said Thursday it appears missing Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi is dead, based on information available so far.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo briefed Trump on the matter earlier in the day. Asked by a reporter if he believed Khashoggi is dead, Trump said: “It certainly looks that way to me.”
Trump spoke to the press pool at Andrews Air Force Base before departing for Montana.
Asked about consequences if Saudi Arabian government murdered the journalist, Trump said, “It will have to be very severe.”
The president and administration officials have been cautious about jumping to conclusions.
The United States will give Saudi Arabia and Turkey time to complete investigations that will be “transparent” and open to questions regarding the missing Saudi journalist, Pompeo said earlier Thursday.
Pompeo made a brief statement to reporters at the White House after he briefed Trump about his meetings with Saudi King Salman and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Khashoggi, 59, was last seen Oct. 2 going into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. He is a legal resident of the United States.
Ina related development, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced Thursday that he was backing out of a Saudi economic summit in the midst of the controversy.
— Steven Mnuchin (@stevenmnuchin1) October 18, 2018
The government of Turkey claims to have audio of Khashoggi being killed. However, the government of Saudi Arabia has denied harming the journalist.
“We made clear to them that we take this matter very seriously, and they made clear to me that they too understand the serious nature of the disappearance of Mr. Khashoggi,” Pompeo said of his meeting with top Saudi officials.
Pompeo said the U.S. will scrutinize and question the Saudi findings for credibility:
They also made clear that they will conduct a complete, thorough investigation of all of the facts surrounding Mr. Khashoggi, and that they will do so in a timely fashion. And that this report itself will be transparent, for everyone to see, to ask questions about. I told President Trump this morning that we ought to give them a few more days to complete that so we can get a complete understanding the facts surrounding that, at which point we can make a decision about how the United States should respond to the issues surrounding Mr. Khashoggi.
The matter has put the U.S. government in an awkward situation, as Saudi Arabia for decades has been a strategic ally for military and economic reasons. Pompeo stressed that the alliance goes back to 1932.
“They can be an important counterterrorism partner, they have custody of two holy sites, they are an important strategic alliance,” the secretary of state said.
He also talked about his meeting with Erdogan, who told him Turkey is separately investigating the matter.
“We had a chance to meet with some of the team that’s involved in that,” Pompeo said. “He assured me that they will share their results with the Saudis as well. So we do believe that between these two efforts, a complete picture will emerge of what actually transpired here. And we’re working towards that, we’re looking forward to that.”
The Trump administration began an investigation at the urging of 20 senators who signed onto a bipartisan letter to the president.
The senators’ letter to Trump was initiated by the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Robert Menendez, D-N.J., respectively.
Joining them were Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., chairman of the Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on state, foreign operations, and related programs, and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., that panel’s ranking member.
Under a 2012 law called the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, upon receipt of a letter from the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the president must make a determination within 120 days on whether to impose sanctions with respect to a foreign person responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, or other human rights violations.