President Donald Trump on Monday suggested that “rogue killers” may be responsible for the disappearance of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, while also dispatching Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to meet with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman.
“We are going to leave nothing uncovered,” Trump told reporters on the South Lawn of the White House. “With that being said, the king firmly denied any knowledge of it. … I don’t want to get into his mind but it sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers, who knows? We’ll try getting to the bottom of it very soon. His was a flat denial.”
Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who had been living in exile in the United States, was last seen in Istanbul on Oct. 2 entering the Saudi consulate to obtain an official document for his upcoming wedding. Khashoggi has been critical of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other members of the royal family.
State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said in a statement that Pompeo will travel to Riyadh on Monday. “The President has called for a prompt and open investigation into the disappearance of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi,” she said in the statement.
Trump has swung between offering harsh words for Saudi leaders and appearing to accept their denials of responsibility. Trump and his aides, including son-in-law Jared Kushner, have cultivated closer ties with the Saudi royal family and have announced billions of dollars in arms sales.
The president on Monday morning tweeted that he had spoken with the king and emphasized the king’s denial of any knowledge about Khashoggi’s disappearance.
“Just spoke to the King of Saudi Arabia who denies any knowledge of whatever may have happened ‘to our Saudi Arabian citizen,'” the president wrote in a tweet. “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 during an interview on “60 Minutes” on Sunday warned that there will be “severe punishment” over Khoshoggi’s disapperance.
The president also noted in the interview what the U.S. “would be very upset and angry” if Saudi Arabia ordered Khoshoggi to be murdered.
“As of this moment, they deny it and they deny it vehemently,” Trump said of Saudi Arabia. “Could it be them? Yes.”