President Donald Trump cast new doubt on claims that an audio tape of Jamal Khashoggi’s death exists on Wednesday, telling reporters that he hasn’t heard it if it does.
He said in the Oval Office it’s ‘gonna be the first question I ask’ when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo returns from his fact-finding mission in the Middle East.
‘We have asked for it, if it exists,’ Trump said. ‘I’m not sure yet that it exists, probably does, possibly does.’
The president refused to tell a journalist whether or not the FBI is involved in the disappearance of the Virginia resident after noting that Khashoggi is not a U.S. citizen.
‘He wasn’t a citizen of this country for one thing,’ Trump said during a Wednesday morning event.
President Donald Trump cast new doubt on claims that an audio tape of Jamal Khashoggi’s death exists on Wednesday, telling reporters that he hasn’t heard it if it does
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo refused to comment on the reported existence of the tape as he spoke to reporters on Wednesday after a stop in Ankara: ‘I don’t have anything to say about that
Pompeo refused to comment on the reported existence of the tape as he spoke to reporters on Wednesday after a stop in Ankara. ‘I don’t have anything to say about that,’ he asserted.
‘We have two countries conducting investigations. They’ll do that, and the world will get a chance to see the facts that they turn up through their investigations,’ Pompeo told traveling press.
The former CIA director for Trump who moved to chief diplomat for the U.S. earlier this year said he had ‘direct’ talks with the Saudis on the trip and his silence on the matter shouldn’t be interpreted as the U.S. taking a position on the facts.
He told reporters clamoring for information: ‘No one should mistake that we’re looking to see the results of these investigations, too, that we think it’s important that they get them right, and we’re hopeful it’ll happen quickly.’
Trump told journalists in the Oval Office on Wednesday that he’s not trying to give the Saudis ‘cover,’ he’s waiting to have a ‘long conversation’ with his secretary of state.
‘I just wanna find out what’s happening,’ Trump said. ‘He spent a lot of time with the crown prince. And he’s gonna have a full report. I’m not giving cover at all.’
Continuing as a part of the same answer, Trump returned to an argument he’s been making for days. ‘Saudi Arabia has been a very important ally of ours in the Middle East.’
‘They are an ally. We have other very good allies in the Middle East. But if you look at Saudi Arabia, they’re an ally, and they’re a tremendous purchaser of, not only military equipment, but other things,’ he added. ‘Those are the biggest orders in the history of this country, probably the history of the world.’
Pompeo also brought up the countries’ security and economic relationships as he commented on the disappearance on Wednesday.
‘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 relationships, things we work on together all across the world – efforts to reduce the risk to the United States of America from the world’s largest state sponsor of terror, Iran.
He said the Saudis ‘have been great partners’ on issues that ‘are in Americans’ best interests.’
That relationship does not give Saudi Arabia the right to kill journalists at will, he told a reporter asking if aiding and abetting murders is in the United States’ best interests.
‘I’m not going to speculate. Obviously, if someone – if a country engages in an activity that is unlawful, it’s unacceptable,’ Pompeo replied. ‘No one is going to defend activity of that nature. We’ll see what happens.’
President Trump says that he has spoken to the crown prince of Saudi Arabia and the kingdom steadfastly denies any involvement in Jamal Khashoggi’s suspected murder
‘Here we go again with, you know, you’re guilty until proven innocent,’ Trump told the Associated Press, bringing up Brett Kavanaugh.
Trump said the outrage over the suspected murder of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, is not unlike the sexual assault allegations that Kavanaugh endured during his confirmation hearing.
‘I don’t like that. We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh and he was innocent all the way as far as I’m concerned,’ Trump said.
The president told the Associated Press that Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman both deny any knowledge of what happened to Khashoggi after he entered their country’s consulate in Turkey earlier this month.
Khashoggi, a critic of the monarchy, has not been seen since, and a new report claimed he had been dismembered alive in a seven-minute audio tape of Saudi agents torturing him to death.
Trump told the AP that comments he made on Monday claiming Khashoggi could have been the victim of ‘rogue killers’ were informed by a ‘feeling’ he had after his conversation with the king and were not based on hard evidence.
‘I think we have to find out what happened first,’ Trump said of journalist’s disappearance. ‘Here we go again with, you know, you’re guilty until proven innocent.
The Oval Office interview with the AP took place just Trump spoke with the Saudi crown prince. Like his father, he denied any knowledge of Khashoggi’s apparent abduction. He also promised to conduct a thorough investigation.
Trump told the AP that it was his sense that the probe would be concluded in ‘less than a week.’
Oval Office intervention: Trump was interviewed by the Associated Press shortly after spekaing to the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo smiles and shakes hands with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh on Tuesday
Missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi, pictured in Bahrain in 2014, may have been murdered after criticizing the Saudi government
In tweets, Trump said that the crown prince, who goes by the initials MBS, reiterated his father’s denial of Saudi Arabia’s alleged role in the affair during the call that followed a dinner between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Saudi leader in Riyadh.
He said in an interview just before the call that he was waiting to hear from the crown prince to pass judgement. ‘If they knew about it, that would be bad,’ he said, reflecting on the matter to Fox Business.
The president declined to weigh in, once again, on the believeability of the claims that Turkey says are bogus.
Trump personally suggested on Monday that ‘rogue killers’ may have been involved in the hit job after a call with the Saudi king. He has not explained what caused him to believe that or provided evidence of the charge.
A report coming out of Turkey on Tuesday said that Khashoggi was tortured and dismembered alive over a seven-minute period by a squad of Saudi assassins. A source that listened to the audio tape told Middle East Eye that Khashoggi died in the study adjoining the Saudi Arabian consul’s office in Istanbul.
WHAT POMPEO SAID AFTER MEETING THE REAL POWER IN SAUDI ARABIA
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement after meeting Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. It said:
‘On Sunday, President Donald J. Trump directed me to travel to Saudi Arabia to impress upon Saudi Arabia’s leadership that it is essential to determine what happened to Jamal Khashoggi. Today, I met with King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and Foreign Minister al-Jubeir and did just that.
We had direct and candid conversations. I emphasized the importance of conducting a thorough, transparent, and timely investigation, and the Saudi leadership pledged to deliver precisely on that.
This evening, the President called the Crown Prince, who conveyed that a serious and credible investigation is already underway. He pledged that the work of the Saudi public prosecutor will produce a full and complete conclusion with full transparency for the world to see.
During each of today’s meetings the Saudi leadership strongly denied any knowledge of what took place in their consulate in Istanbul.
My assessment from these meetings is that there is serious commitment to determine all the facts and ensure accountability, including accountability for Saudi Arabia’s senior leaders or senior officials.
The President has asked me to travel to Turkey to meet with senior leaders. We will remain in close contact with Saudi and Turkish authorities as they complete this process and ultimately announce their findings.’
‘The consul himself was taken out of the room. There was no attempt to interrogate him. They had come to kill him,’ the source told the news publication.
The source told MEE that Khashoggi is heard screaming on the audio until he was injected with unknown substance by one of the 15 Saudi hit men sent to the country to kill him.
The group is said to have included Salah Muhammad al-Tubaigy, head of forensic evidence for Saudi Arabia’s security department. Tubaigy was among the Saudi officials who arrived in Turkey the same day that Khashoggi went missing in Istanbul.
Trump said Monday that he had spoken to Saudi Arabia’s Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud about Khashoggi and he ‘firmly denied’ any involvement in the journalist’s disappearance.
The president said that he was sending Pompeo to Saudi Arabia to probe the abduction.
As Pompeo concluded his visit, Trump sent out a tweet revealing his conversation with the crown prince and the Saudi leader’s denial on behalf of the royal family of any involvement in Khashoggi’s alleged murder.
‘Just spoke with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia who totally denied any knowledge of what took place in their Turkish Consulate,’ Trump said. ‘He was with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during the call, and told me that he has already started, and will rapidly expand, a full and complete investigation into this matter. Answers will be forthcoming shortly.’
The State Department subsequently announced that Pompeo would tack a visit to Turkey onto his trip to continue the search.
Pompeo in a Tuesday evening statement said he went to Saudi Arabia to impress upon the nation’s leaders that ‘it is essential to determine what happened to Jamal Khashoggi. ‘
‘We had direct and candid conversations. I emphasized the importance of conducting a thorough, transparent, and timely investigation, and the Saudi leadership pledged to deliver precisely on that,’ the U.S. secretary of state said.
Pompeo said that the crown prince ‘conveyed that a serious and credible investigation is already underway’ when he spoke to the president.
‘During each of today’s meetings the Saudi leadership strongly denied any knowledge of what took place in their consulate in Istanbul,’ he asserted.
Suggesting he believe the denials, Pompeo, a former director of the CIA under Trump said: ‘My assessment from these meetings is that there is serious commitment to determine all the facts and ensure accountability, including accountability for Saudi Arabia’s senior leaders or senior officials.’
Trump had declined to provide his own assessment of the denials on Monday, amid reports that Khashoggi died in an unauthorized interrogation, after claiming without evidence that the journalist may have been taken out by rogue killers.
‘I just don’t know. I’m going to have to see what they say. And we’re working very closely with Saudi Arabia and with Turkey, and they are working together to figure out what happened. And they want to know what happened, also,’ Trump said.
In an interview with Fox Business Network set to air on the network on Tuesday evening, Trump said that ‘a lot will be determined’ after Pompeo concludes his talks Saudi Arabia.
Trump had not spoken to the crown prince at the time of the interview. He said he expected him to be calling soon, ‘And you’ll start hearing what is happening.’
‘Turkey is looking at it very strongly. We’re all looking at it together. But Turkey and Saudi Arabia are looking at it very strongly, and it depends whether or not the King or the Crown Prince knew about it in my opinion, number one what happened, but whether or not they knew about it,’ Trump told Fox Business’ Trish Reagan. ‘If they knew about it, that would be bad.’
In his new comments, Trump suggested once again that he is inclined to believe that the Saudi government’s claims that it has no idea what happened to the Washington Post columnist.
He has refused to evaluate the claims while repeatedly emphasizing the Saudi government’s ‘flat’ denial of wrongdoing, beginning Monday during a 20-minute phone conversation.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, meanwhile vowed on Tuesday to ‘sanction the hell out of Saudi Arabia’ after what he described as a blatant attempt to hoodwink the U.S.
He said he would not return to Saudi Arabia as long as MBS is in power.
‘This guy is a wrecking ball. He had this guy murdered in a consulate in Turkey, and to expect me to ignore it — I feel used and abused,’ the senator who sits on the Armed Services Committee said. ‘I was on the floor every time defending Saudi Arabia because they’re a good ally.’
MBS reportedly put his own mother on house arrest earlier this year as part of a power grab he says was about cracking down on internal corruption.
‘This guy has got to go,’ Graham said, straight to camera, on Tuesday morning on Fox & Friends. ‘Saudi Arabia, if you’re listening. There’s a lot of good people you can choose, but MBS has tainted your country.’
Sen. Dianne Feinstein also spoke out forcefully on Tuesday against the Saudi government.
‘The United States must send a message that this killing will not go unpunished,’ the California Democrat said in a statement. ‘For any country to feel emboldened to kill a man in this manner speaks to a breakdown in international norms that must be addressed. We must strongly rebuke any government that would kill an individual in its own consulate.’
Feinstein said she would not support Saudi arms deals that come before Congress and would not approve U.S. assistance for the Saudi-backed war in Yemen.
Trump had no public events on Tuesday, and made only one known appearance anywhere – the interview on Fox Business.
He otherwise let his tweets do the talking on Tuesday as mounting evidence, produced by the Turks, pointed to the Saudi government as having been involved in Khashoggi’s disappearance.
The president has not elaborated on his on theory of what may have happened to Khashoggi, the Saudi-born writer who Turkey says was lured to his death earlier this month in Istanbul.
He suggested without evidence that ‘rogue killers’ could have been responsible for the disappearance that Trump also framed as a murder.
As he left the White House to board Marine One on the South Lawn, the president said the king’s denial ‘could not have been stronger’ and that is all he currently has to go off of.
‘He said it very strongly,’ Trump said when pressed to give his assessment of the Saudi king’s trustworthiness.
Pompeo showed up in Riyadh with a smile on his face on Tuesday to meet with the crown prince, despite new reports out of Turkey that it found evidence of Khashoggi’s murder at the Saudi consulate.
President Trump pushed back on reporting Tuesday that suggested his personal business interests are tying his tongue on Saudi Arabia
The kingdom has spent more than $270,000 at Trump International Hotel in Washington
rump’s Washington hotel was also the headquarters for Saudi lobbyists in town to lobby against a law permitting victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to sue the monarchy for damages
President Trump meanwhile pushed back on reporting on the subject that suggested his personal business interests are tying his tongue.
Trump said in a tweet that he ‘no financial interests in Saudi Arabia’ and suggestions to the contrary are ‘FAKE NEWS’ after a segment on Fox & Friends looked at Nancy Pelosi’s claim on Monday that he did.
Pelosi said on Sirius XM that she was ‘suspicious that there was some kind of financial transaction involved there, whether for his businesses or whatever’ with Saudi Arabia.
At the heart of similar claims is the Saudi government’s payments to the president’s hotels. The kingdom is one of his best customers.
Saudi Arabia has spent more than $270,000 at Trump International Hotel in Washington and frequents a hotel of the same name that’s owned by the president in New York.
Trump bragged as a candidate about his financial relationship with Saudi Arabia, admitting in remarks that have come back to haunt him that his positive feelings for the totalitarian government are based on how much money he makes off the kingdom.
‘Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them,’ he said. ‘They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.’
In 2001, Trump sold an entire floor of Trump World Tower to the Saudi government. The apartment complex is New York City is located across the street from the United Nations. The purchase was valued at $12 million, according to CBS.
Since Donald Trump was elected, the Trump Organization has dropped attempts to expand into the Middle Eastern nation that were disclosed in the sitting president’s financial disclosure paperwork. But the Saudi kingdom on its own has continued to be a top Trump customer.
When the kingdom’s crown prince came to the White House to visit Trump in March, he stayed blocks away, at the president’s newly-opened hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, the Washington Post reported.
Trump’s Washington hotel was also the headquarters for Saudi lobbyists in town to lobby against a law permitting victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to sue the monarchy for damages.
MBS’ stay alone boosted sales at the D.C. hotel by 13 percent in early 2018.
Pompeo flew to the Saudi capital to discuss the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi where Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said the two countries were ‘old, strong’ allies
As he continued to feel the heat over his Khashoggi’s suspected murder at the hands of a Saudi hit squad that the Turkish government says was sent to Istanbul to assassinate the journalist, Trump insisted on Tuesday, however, that his personal financial interests were not part of his calculus to thwart sanctions against Saudi Arabia.
‘For the record, I have no financial interests in Saudi Arabia (or Russia, for that matter). Any suggestion that I have is just more FAKE NEWS (of which there is plenty)!’ the president tweeted.
A day prior, Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House, said that she believes there’s an untold connection between the kingdom and Trump.
‘In terms of Saudi Arabia, I’ve always wondered why he went there as the first country to visit outside of the United States. Of course, as President of the United States, all the other presidents back to Ronald Reagan went to Canada, or one to Mexico, George W. Bush…so in our hemisphere,’ she told SiriusXM’s ‘Signal Boost’ in an excerpt that aired early of the interview.
‘There are many friends and allies we could have gone to. So, I was always suspicious that there was some kind of a financial transaction involved there, whether for his businesses or whatever, and I’m not convinced there isn’t,’ Pelosi stated.
Pelosi said she suspects that undisclosed business dealings with Saudi Arabia are guiding Trump’s actions now.
‘I think that plays out here. Now, of course he would say we want to know the truth. We’re not just going to accept we didn’t have anything to do with it as an answer,’ she asserted.
Trump said in a tweet just before he talked to reporters outside the White House that he was sending Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to probe the disappearance
CLOSE TALKS: Trump said he had now spoken to King Salman, the Saudi king. He and Melania Trump met the king on their very first foreign trip
With a $110 billion arms deal at stake, Trump and other U.S. officials have been loathe to blame Salman’s kingdom for the suspected murder of the Washington Post columnist who had become an outspoken Saudi government critic.
Trump has at the same time attempted to signal that his administration takes violence against the free press seriously given his own tormenting at rallies of ‘fake news’ journalists he’s unabashedly claimed are the ‘enemy of the people.’
‘We’re going to just see what happened. We have to see what happened,’ Trump said Saturday in the Oval Office as he celebrated the return of an American pastor who had been detained in Istanbul. ‘There’s plenty of things we can do that are very tough. Let’s see what happened first.’
Trump said then that he had not reviewed the video evidence that Turkey says it has to prove that Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul but that he would be seeing it soon. He has indicated that remains the case.
He promised in remarks to reporters to ‘get to the bottom’ of the suspected killing that he says King Salman personally denied having ordered.
‘I can only tell you that his denial to me in this one very you know relatively fast phone call, probably lasted 20 minutes, his denial to me could not have been stronger that he had no knowledge. And it sounds like he and also the crown prince had no knowledge,’ Trump said.
The U.S. president has come under heavy pressure to intervene in the probe of Khashoggi’s abduction after the Virginia resident was captured on video entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul two weeks ago and never leaving.
Also at stake is the the relationship Trump built with Saudi Arabia – a relationship cemented during the first stop of his first foreign trip last year as president. The connection blossomed into a lucrative arms deal for the U.S.
Trump told reporters on Saturday that he does not want to jeopardize jobs and business for Americans by punishing Saudi Arabia, if it was responsible, with sanctions that affect the purchase of weapons.
‘It’s $110 billion. I believe it’s the largest order ever made. It’s 450,000 jobs. It’s the best equipment in the world. But if they don’t buy it from us, they’re going to buy it from Russia or they’re going to buy it from China, or they’re going to buy it from other countries,’ he explained.
‘And I would — from the standpoint of jobs, economic development, a lot of other reasons, I would like to do something where we could maybe look at other things — I will tell the senators — because that’s a tremendous order for our companies. It’s a tremendous order for — really, from an economic development standpoint,’ he said. ‘Almost all of our states are involved in that order.’
The crisis also complicates the close friendship the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner has cultivated with the kingdom’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the administration’s efforts to eliminate state-sponsored terror.
White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow noted on Sunday that terror financing is a topic of the Vision 2030 conference set to take place in Saudi Arabia later this month.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnunchin still plans to attend the conference for that reason, Kudlow said, despite other high-profile exits like JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon.
Real power: Crown prince Mohammed bin Salman is the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia and had been hailed by Trump and given a red-carpet welcome to the Oval Office in March
Trump said Saturday that he would speak to the Saudi king about the suspected tragedy imminently, but the conversation apparently did not take place until Monday morning.
‘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!’ Trump said in a tweet just before he left the White House to tour southern storm damage.
The description of Khashoggi as ‘our Saudi Arabian citizen’ distances Trump from the disappearance of the Washington Post columnist who Turkey says was tortured, murdered and dismembered by Saudi assassins. The two countries have nonetheless announced a coalition that will probe the disappearance that technically took place on Saudi soil.
He repeated the phrase as he spoke to journalists in a light drizzle near the entrance to the residential wing of the White House during a media avail before his departure with the first lady in Marine One.
‘I just spoke with the King of Saudi Arabia and he denies any knowledge of what took place with regards to, as he said, to Saudi Arabia’s citizen. He firmly denies that. I asked the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to immediately get on a plane, go to Saudi Arabia, go to other places if necessary which he probably will, with regards to this. Go to Turkey if necessary,’ Trump said.
‘The King told me Turkey and Saudi Arabia are working hand in hand very closely on getting to the bottom of what happened so we’ll see what happened. Mike Pompeo is leaving literally within an hour or so heading to Saudi Arabia.’
Trump pledged ‘to leave nothing uncovered’ in the search. ‘With that being said the king firmly denies any knowledge of it. He didn’t really know.
‘I don’t want to get into his mind but it sounded to me like maybe it could have been rogue killers, who knows?’ Trump added. ‘We’re going to try get to the bottom of it very soon but his was a flat denial.’
The crown prince of Saudi Arabia, known as MBS, 33, is seen as having the real power in the kingdom that’s formally overseen by his 82-year-old father.
Oil prices rise and the Riyal dips
Benchmark Brent crude oil jumped by $1.49 a barrel to a high of $81.92 on Monday.
The riyal was quoted at 3.7524 to the U.S. dollar early on Monday, as well, its weakest rate since September 2016, Refinitiv data showed.
It comes after Saudi Arabia issued a thinly-veiled threat to cut oil production if the U.S. imposes sanctions over journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance.
There are also fears companies will turn away from investing in the kingdom, as CEOs pulled out of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 conference this month in droves.
He has introduced ambitious reforms as part of his Vision 2030 campaign. But he has also ruled over a crackdown on ‘corruption’ last year that was effectively seen as a power grab.
The Saudis on Monday agreed to allow Turkey to inspect the Saudi consulate in Istanbul for evidence of Khashoggi’s murder. The joint effort sprouted from a call between King Salman and Turkish President Recep Erdogan on Sunday.
Khashoggi has not been seen since he entered the embassy on Oct. 2. Turkey claims to have evidence that Saudi hit team killed and dismembered the journalist.
Saudi Arabia has called the allegations ‘baseless’ and denied that the kingdom was involved. An internal investigation has been opened into the disappearance.
U.S. lawmakers have taken steps to introduce sanctions on Saudi Arabia for the suspected murder, and and President Trump has promised ‘severe punishment’ for the culprit.
Saudi Arabia has warned in return that if it ‘receives any action, it will respond with greater action, and that the kingdom’s economy has an influential and vital role in the global economy.’
‘The kingdom affirms its total rejection of any threats and attempts to undermine it, whether by threatening to impose economic sanctions, using political pressures or repeating false accusations,’ a statement in the state-run Saudi Press Agency aid.
Another Arabic-language newspaper in Saudi Arabia, Okaz, said in an English headline on Monday: ‘Don’t Test Our Patience.’
A team of cleaners entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul today ahead of an inspection by Turkish and Saudi officials
Jamal Khashoggi (right) arriving at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul on October 2. He has not been seen since and Turkey has accused Saudi agents of murdering him
Prominent business leaders like Dimon and Ford Motor Co. executive Bill Ford meanwhile pulled out of the investment conference in Riyadh that is known as ‘Davos in the Desert’ for the number of billionaires and CEOs and it attracts.
Trump punted on the topic on Saturday, asking Pompeo to respond to a question about Mnuchin’s planned participation, instead.
‘I think we need to continue to evaluate the facts and we’ll make that decision. As I talked with Secretary Mnuchin about it last night, we’ll be taking a look at it through the rest of the week,’ Pompeo responded.