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

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

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTed Cruz knocks New York Times for 'stunning' correction on Kavanaugh report US service member killed in Afghanistan Pro-Trump website edited British reality star's picture to show him wearing Trump hat 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump takes 2020 roadshow to New Mexico Melania Trump to attend reopening of Washington Monument Former speechwriter says Michelle Obama came up with 'when they go low we go high' line 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 KushnerThe Hill's Morning Report - 2020 Democrats set for Lone Star showdown Exclusive: Kushner tells GOP it needs to unify behind immigration plan Arrests at southern border drop to 64K in August 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 PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoThe Hill's 12:30 Report: NY Times story sparks new firestorm over Kavanaugh Gabbard warns Trump: Acting like 'Saudi Arabia's b---- is not "America First"' Trump ramps up rhetoric on Iran 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 GrahamThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump takes 2020 roadshow to New Mexico Bolton exit provokes questions about Trump shift on Iran The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation 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.