Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s mysterious disappearance at the kingdom’s consulate in Turkey appears to have driven a wedge between President Donald Trump and his party, which is pressing for an aggressive U.S. response if Saudi Arabia is found responsible for the suspected killing of the Washington Post columnist.
The unexplained disappearance of Khashoggi earlier this month fueled speculation by many that he was killed and dismembered in the consulate and that the murder was ordered by Saudi Arabia’s crown prince. President Trump said on Tuesday that the crown prince denied any knowledge of Khashoggi’s fate, suggesting that he accepted such an explanation.
“Just spoke with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia who totally denied any knowledge of what took place in their Turkish Consulate,” Trump wrote on Twitter.
He later added that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had been told by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that the kingdom would rapidly expand an investigation and that they would quickly get answers. President Trump further stressed that blaming the kingdom for the disappearance of the journalist is another example of “guilty until proven innocent,” a reference to his previous comments about sexual misconduct allegations made last month against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Trump, who spoke with bin Salman on Monday, also said that the alleged death of the journalist could have been the result of an interrogation gone wrong, and his murder committed by “rogue killers.” Shortly after the conversation, the Saudi government was reported to have been preparing to make a similar statement.
Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 but was never seen exiting it. Turkish officials quickly blamed Riyadh for the disappearance and alleged killing of the Washington Post columnist.
The event drew the ire of a number of Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill, one of which is Senator Lindsey Graham, who threatened to “sanction the hell out of Saudi Arabia.” Senator Marco Rubio, a prominent member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Tuesday that if need be Congress would act independently of the administration.
“The Senate, the Congress, I believe will act in a bipartisan way and this is going to alter the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia for the foreseeable future,” he said.
Democrats as well backed that prediction. Senator Ben Cardin, a senior member of the same committee, noted that “there’s going to be consequences and we’re going to take action.”