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Trump says 'rogue killers' could be to blame for Saudi journalist

President TrumpDonald John TrumpDeath toll in Northern California wildfire rises to 48: authorities Graham backs bill to protect Mueller Denham loses GOP seat in California MORE on Monday suggested Saudi Arabia might not be responsible for the fate of Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S.-based journalist whose disappearance has sparked an international outcry.

Trump told reporters at the White House that "rogue killers," and not Saudi officials, may have gotten to Khashoggi. The president cited no specific evidence, but noted he had just spoken with Saudi King Salman, who denied that Riyadh was involved.

"I don’t want to get into his mind, but it sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers. Who knows?" Trump said.

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The president said King Salman's denial "was very, very strong" and it did not seem as if "there was a question" in the king's mind about his claim Saudi Arabia was not involved.

"We’re going to try get to the bottom of it very soon, but his was a flat denial," said Trump.

Turkish officials have said they believe Khashoggi was killed and dismembered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on orders of the government in Riyadh.

The journalist, who wrote for The Washington Post and resided in Virginia, visited the consulate on Oct. 2 to get paperwork necessary for his marriage and has not been seen since.

There have been reports of 15 Saudi agents entering Turkey before Khashoggi arrived at the consulate and leaving the country following the journalist's disappearance.

Trump's comments could spur further controversy surrounding the journalist's apparent death.

The incident has sparked a major diplomatic crisis between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, with lawmakers pressuring Trump to take swift action to punish Riyadh.

Trump on Monday dispatched Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoTrump: NY Times report on North Korean missile bases inaccurate Pompeo accuses Newsweek of 'helping' Iran 'spread lies' Overnight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — Trump's Armistice Day trip marked by controversy | US ends aerial refueling to Saudi coalition in Yemen | Analysts identify undeclared North Korean missile bases MORE to meet with King Salman.

The president has previously threatened to impose penalties on Saudi Arabia if it is found to have been responsible for Khashoggi's disappearance, but he said on Monday that he did not raise the issue with King Salman.

"We didn’t talk about that. We didn’t talk about that. I did say this is very important. The world is watching, the world is talking. This is very important to get to the bottom of it. I think he understands that very well," Trump said.

There was speculation before Trump spoke that Saudi Arabia, which has faced growing pressure over Khashoggi's disappearance, might seek to blame rogue agents, a sign the president could have been repeating something King Salman said.

Trump earlier this year repeated Russian President Vladimir Putin's denials that Moscow interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

"I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today," Trump said during a press conference with the Russian leader after their July meeting in Helsinki.

Trump has also suggested that others might have been responsible for hacking the Democratic National Committee (DNC) during the campaign, an attack the U.S. intelligence community has unanimously blamed on Russia. Trump appeared to have arrived at that conclusion on his own and not from a conversation with Putin.

"I don't think anybody knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC," he said during a September 2016 debate with his Democratic opponent, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonOvernight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — First lady's office pushes for ouster of national security aide | Trump taps retired general as ambassador to Saudis | Mattis to visit border troops | Record number of female veterans to serve in Congress Election Countdown: Lawsuits fly in Florida recount fight | Nelson pushes to extend deadline | Judge says Georgia county violated Civil Rights Act | Biden, Sanders lead 2020 Dem field in poll | Bloomberg to decide on 2020 by February What midterm exit polls tell us about 2020 MORE. "It could be Russia, but it could also be China. Could also be lots of other people. It could also be somebody sitting on their bed who weighs 400 pounds, OK?"

Updated at 10:32 a.m.