U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that when he met with Saudi leaders they did not want to talk about any of the facts involving the disappearance of a U.S.-based Saudi journalist Turkish officials say was killed and dismembered by Saudi agents inside Riyadh’s consulate in Istanbul, a charge denied by the Saudis.
As he headed to Ankara to talk to Turkish leaders about their investigation about the missing journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, the top U.S. diplomat told reporters that Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman assured him they “would show the entire world” the results of their investigation.
Pompeo said the Saudis committed to holding accountable “anyone connected to any wrongdoing that may be found,” making no exceptions for anyone, including members of the royal family.
But asked whether the Saudi officials told him whether Khashoggi is alive or dead, Pompeo said, “I don’t want to talk about any of the facts. They didn’t want to either, in that they want to have the opportunity to complete this investigation in a thorough way.”
The alleged murder
The Wall Street Journal reported late Tuesday that Saudi operatives beat and drugged Khashoggi, then killed and dismembered him, with pro-government media in Turkey publishing similar accounts. The U.S. newspaper said Turkish officials have shared evidence, including details of an audio recording, with Saudi and U.S. officials.
Asked what gave him the benefit of the doubt of believing Saudi Arabia that it was not involved in Khashoggi’s disappearance, Pompeo said, “I’m waiting for the investigation to be completed. They promised that they would achieve that, and I’m counting on it, and they gave me their word. And we’ll all get to see if they deliver against that commitment.”
In Ankara, Pompeo met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, but did not make further comments about the investigation before heading back to Washington.
The State Department issued a statement saying Pompeo “expressed the United States’ concern over Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance and reiterated the United States’ willingness to assist Turkey in its investigation.”
Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi monarchy who wrote for The Washington Post, was last seen October 2 entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Turkish officials have said 15 Saudi agents who arrived in Istanbul the same day killed Khashoggi, while Saudi officials say he walked out of the consulate on his own. Neither country has publicly offered evidence of its version of events.
The New York Times and the Post both reported late Tuesday that several people from the list of Saudi agents are linked to Saudi security services and the crown prince.
The Associated Press also quoted an unnamed high-level Turkish official as saying during a search of the consulate Turkish crime scene investigators found evidence of Khashoggi’s killing, but did not give further details. Reuters said investigators found “strong evidence,” but no conclusive proof of Khashoggi’s death.
Turkish investigators are hoping Wednesday to scour the residence of Saudi counsul general Mohammed al-Otaibi for evidence in the case. He left Istanbul for Riyadh on Tuesday.
U.S. President Donald Trump criticized the growing condemnation of Saudi Arabia in an interview Tuesday with the Associated Press.
“Here you go again with, you know, you’re guilty until proven innocent,” Trump said.
He compared the situation with that of his recent Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who faced sexual abuse allegations during his confirmation process.
“We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh and he was innocent all the way as far as I’m concerned,” Trump told the AP. “I think we have to find out what happened first.”
While Pompeo was in his meetings in Saudi Arabia, Trump, in Washington, said on Twitter, “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)!”
But during a 2015 campaign stop, Trump boasted about his business dealings with the Saudis. “Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them,” Trump said. “They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.”
As he dispatched Pompeo to Riyadh on Monday, Trump told reporters at the White House that King Salman’s denials to him about Khashoggi’s fate in a phone call “could not have been stronger.”
But some U.S. lawmakers have all but accepted Turkey’s version of the events, that a team of Saudi agents arrived in Istanbul and killed Khashoggi when he went to the consulate to pick up documents he needed to marry his fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, a Turkish national who waited in vain for Khashoggi to emerge from the consulate.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said Tuesday the United States should “sanction the hell out of Saudi Arabia” over the incident and said he would never again work with the crown prince, assailing him as “toxic” and calling him a “wrecking ball.”
Chris Hannas, Ken Bredemeier and State Department correspondent Nike Ching, contributed to this report.