Trump says he's spoken with Saudi officials about missing journalist

Trump says he's spoken with Saudi officials about missing journalist
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President TrumpDonald TrumpHillicon Valley — State Dept. employees targets of spyware Ohio Republican Party meeting ends abruptly over anti-DeWine protesters Jan. 6 panel faces new test as first witness pleads the Fifth MORE said Wednesday he’s spoken with Saudi officials about the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi but did not provide additional information about Khashoggi's status.

Trump did not specify further, only saying that those in Saudi Arabia he spoke with were at "the highest level" and that they spoke "more than once."

"It's a very sad situation, it's a very bad situation," Trump told reporters during a briefing in the Oval Office on Hurricane Michael.

"We cannot let this happen — to reporters, to anybody," he added.

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The president added that the White House has been in contact with Khashoggi's fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, about visiting with the president and the first lady.

Cengiz penned an op-ed in The Washington Post on Tuesday in which she pleaded with Trump and first lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpBidens to attend Kennedy Center Honors following Trumps' absence The Hill's 12:30 Report: Biden's message on the 'omicron' variant Jill Biden unveils traditional White House holiday décor MORE to help in the search for what happened to Khashoggi, a frequent contributor to the Post.

National security adviser John Bolton and White House senior adviser Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerBiden celebrates start of Hanukkah Kushner looking to Middle East for investors in new firm: report Watchdog finds no money has flowed out of agency tasked by Trump admin to fight pandemic MORE phoned Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman on Tuesday to ask for information about Khashoggi, according to the White House.

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoHaley has 'positive' meeting with Trump No time for the timid: The dual threats of progressives and Trump Psaki: Sexism contributes to some criticism of Harris MORE then had a follow-up call with the crown prince, who has close ties to several Trump administration officials, including Kushner. 

"In both calls, they asked for more details and for the Saudi government to be transparent in the investigation process," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.

Wednesday's update marked Trump's most in-depth comments about Khashoggi's case since he first disappeared last week.

Khashoggi was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last week. Turkish officials have concluded that he was murdered there and that his body was dismembered on orders from Saudi leadership, according to The New York Times.

Trump on Wednesday said he's hopeful Khashoggi is not dead and declined to say whether he would hold Saudi Arabia responsible if the journalist was murdered.

"I have to find out who did it," he said. "But people saw him go in, but they didn’t see him come out, as they understand it, and we’re going to be taking a very serious look at it."

Khashoggi's disappearance has raised concerns among U.S. lawmakers, including a number of Republican senators. He was a Washington Post columnist, and an outspoken critic of Saudi leadership.

Trump had previously refrained from making extensive comments about his disappearance, only telling reporters that he was "concerned" and calling it a "sad situation."

Vice President Pence indicated in an interview broadcast Wednesday morning that he'd be open to sending a team of FBI agents to Turkey to investigate Khashoggi's case, and he called reports of Khashoggi's death concerning to "everyone that cares as a free and open press around the world."

Trump has fostered a positive relationship with Crown Prince Mohammed, as the two leaders have paid each other official visits in their respective home countries.

However, a number of senators have warned that Khashoggi’s reported murder, if confirmed, would be a turning point in U.S.-Saudi relations.

“If it did happen there would be hell to pay,” Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham emerges as go-to ally for Biden's judicial picks This Thanksgiving, skip the political food fights and talk UFOs instead Biden move to tap oil reserves draws GOP pushback MORE (R-S.C.) said earlier Wednesday. “This hangs over the relationship like a very heavy cloud. They’ve been a good ally in sharing intelligence and facing common enemies … however there will be no pass given if it did happen.”

Jordan Fabian contributed.

Updated at 1:32 p.m.