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President Trump on whether Jamal Khashoggi is dead: ‘certainly looks that way’

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump told reporters Thursday that he is concerned Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi might be dead.

“It certainly looks that way to me,” Trump said as he departed from Joint Base Andrews. “It’s very sad. Certainly looks that way.”

While U.S. officials are awaiting the results of three investigations, the president said he feels confident “we should be able to get to the bottom fairly soon.” He added that he would consider “severe” consequences if oil-rich ally Saudi Arabia was involved.

Vice President Mike Pence went a step further during a stop in Denver earlier in the day and vowed: “the world deserves answers.”

“If what has been alleged has occurred. If an innocent person lost their life at the hands of violence, that’s to be condemned,” Pence said. “If a journalist, in particular, lost their life at the hands of violence, that’s an affront to a free and independent press around the world. And there will be consequences. But we’ll wait for the facts, we’ll wait for all the information to come in.”

The comments from the president and vice president were some of the strongest from the pair to date in the wake of mounting questions over the journalist’s fate. It also adds to the drumbeat of American politicians and business leaders demanding answers and, in the meantime, withdrawing support from Saudi-sponsored functions.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin took to Twitter Thursday to announce his withdrawal from a Saudi-hosted, major investment forum called the Future Investment Initiative, sometimes referred to as “Davos in the Desert”. He said he made the decision after speaking with President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Several business leaders and media companies have also pulled out of the event over concerns about the Khashoggi episode, including Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, Viacom CEO Bob Bakish, Virgin and its CEO Richard Branson, venture capitalist and AOL co-founder Steve Case, LA Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong, Bloomberg Media, and CNN, among others.

Earlier in the day, Pompeo said he told President Trump that the Saudis should have “a few more days” to complete their investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance.

“We made clear to them that we take this matter with respect to Mr. Khashoggi very seriously,” Pompeo said following his nearly hour-long briefing with the president. “They made clear to me they too understand the serious nature of the disappearance of Mr. Khashoggi. They also assured me that they will conduct a complete, thorough investigation of all of the facts surrounding Mr. Khashoggi and they will do so in a timely fashion and that this report itself will be transparent for everyone to see, to ask questions about, and to inquire with respect to its thoroughness.”

Trump echoed Pompeo’s comments shortly after, tweeting that the secretary of state met with him Thursday morning and discussed in “great detail” the investigation and meeting with the crown prince.

Pompeo again stressed several times in his statement the “long strategic relationship” the U.S. shares with Saudi Arabia and their status as an “important counter-terrorism supporter.”

He said between the Turkish and Saudi investigations they expect “a complete picture will emerge for what actually transpired here.”

Pressed why the Saudis should be entrusted with an investigation into themselves, Pompeo said: “We’re all going to get to see the work product.”

“We’re all going to get to see the response the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia takes with this,” Pompeo said. “All of us will get a chance to make the determination… whether it’s fair and transparent in the way they made a personal commitment to me and the Crown Prince made a personal commitment to the president when he spoke to him the night before last.”

Pompeo’s comments also come amid ongoing speculation that Turkey may have audio tapes that reveal what happened to Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and royal insider who has been missing for over two weeks after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Pompeo met with Turkish President Erdogan and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoglu Wednesday but refused to express any doubt or skepticism about the legitimacy of a Saudi investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance.

Following that meeting, Trump stressed that his earlier comments about Saudi Arabia’s denials of any involvement in Khashoggi’s disappearance were not an attempt to give the oil-rich ally cover.

“No not at all, I just want to find out what’s happening,” Trump told reporters.

Khashoggi, who had been living in the U.S., visited the consulate to file paperwork for his wedding and has not been seen since. Turkish officials allege Khashoggi, who has written critically about the Saudi government, was killed, which the Saudis have fiercely denied.

Turkish officials say that a hit squad of 15 Saudis flew to Istanbul for just hours surrounding Khashoggi’s disappearance, and they reportedly claim to have audio recordings of Khashoggi being interrogated and murdered.

Trump told reporters Wednesday the U.S. has asked for the recordings “if it exists.”

“We don’t know if it exists yet. We’ll have a full report when Mike [Pompeo] comes back, that’s going to be one of the first questions I ask him,” he said in the Oval Office.

In his first sit-down interview with U.S. media, a close friend of Khashoggi’s described to ABC News what he’d been told in briefings by Turkish security officials.

“I talked with some Turkish government and security officials and they said Jamal was killed. I didn’t know what to do. I really couldn’t answer. Then I called a few colleagues, again security officials, trying to have them verify it, saying ‘Is this really true?'” Turan Kislakci said Wednesday. “They said, ‘Yes, Turan, and let’s tell you even beyond that, he was killed in a very barbaric way.’ I was shocked. They not only kill him in the consulate, but also in a barbaric way.”

Khashoggi warned of increasing efforts to silence the media in the Middle East in a column he wrote just before he vanished earlier this month. The “final column” was published online Wednesday.

Karen Attiah, global opinions editor for The Washington Post, wrote that Khashoggi’s translator sent the article a day after the journalist disappeared while visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.

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