WASHINGTON • President Donald Trump vowed “severe punishment” for Saudi Arabia if the United States determines that Saudi agents killed Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, calling the journalist’s suspected murder “really terrible and disgusting.”
In excerpts of a new interview released Saturday morning, Trump said that the incident is being investigated and that the Saudis deny any involvement, despite the mounting evidence that the Saudi regime was implicated in Khashoggi’s disappearance Oct. 2.
“Well, nobody knows yet, but we’ll probably be able to find out,” Trump said in the interview with Lesley Stahl of CBS’ “60 Minutes,” which will air Sunday night. “It’s being investigated, it’s being looked at very, very strongly. And we would be very upset and angry if that were the case. As of this moment, they deny it, and they deny it vehemently. Could it be them? Yes.
“We’re going to get to the bottom of it, and there will be severe punishment.”
Turkish authorities say a team of Saudis killed Khashoggi, and U.S. intelligence intercepts show Saudi officials discussing an operation to lure Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen who had been living in the United States, back to Saudi Arabia from his home in Virginia and detain him.
Speaking with reporters at the White House later Saturday, Trump reiterated there would be “very powerful” repercussions for Saudi Arabia should the U.S. determine that the kingdom is responsible for the death of Khashoggi, who wrote for the Post’s Global Opinions section.
But the president all but ruled out canceling $110 billion in U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia, arguing that doing so would be “very foolish for our country” and only end up harming U.S. defense industries and others.
“There are other things we could do that are very, very powerful, very strong, and we’ll do that,” Trump said.
Trump said he plans to review recordings from the Turkish government that purport to show evidence of Khashoggi’s killing.
Asked whether he had reviewed the recordings, Trump said he has not. He then turned to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to ask if he had seen them, to which the top diplomat replied, “Mr. President, I have not seen it.”
“We’ve all heard a lot about the audio,” Trump said. “Nobody’s seen it yet. We do want to see it.” Trump confirmed he had asked the Turkish government to share the recordings.
Trump said he would be calling King Salman of Saudi Arabia later Saturday or early Sunday to discuss the Khashoggi matter.
Trump said that he had invited Khashoggi’s fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, to visit him at the White House and that his staff was working out arrangements with her.
The Saudi government issued a statement Saturday morning condemning and denouncing “the false accusations circulated in media reports on the Saudi government and other people in the purported relation to the disappearance” of Khashoggi.
The minister went on to praise a joint investigation with Turkey and said the kingdom wants to “clarify the whole truth” about Khashoggi’s disappearance.
Trump told Stahl Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and a senior adviser, spoke by phone with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who denied any involvement.
“They deny it,” Trump said. “They deny it every way you can imagine. In the not-too-distant future, I think we’ll know an answer.”