Trump calls Saudi explanation for journalist's death credible, arrests 'good first step'

President TrumpDonald John TrumpMnuchin knocks Greta Thunberg's activism: Study economics and then 'come back' to us The Hill's Morning Report - House prosecutes Trump as 'lawless,' 'corrupt' What to watch for on Day 3 of Senate impeachment trial MORE on Friday night called Saudi Arabia's explanation for the death of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi credible and said that the arrests of more than a dozen Saudi nationals were "a good first step."

"It's a big step. There's a lot of people involved," Trump said while speaking during a roundtable with top defense contractors in Arizona.

Trump added that "Saudi Arabia has been a great ally, but what happened is unacceptable." 

When asked if he found the Saudi's explanation credible, Trump responded, "I do."

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The president told gathered defense contractors that he does not want to cancel or suspend billions of dollars in Saudi arms purchases as a punishment on the country, but would instead prefer “some form of sanction.”

"I would prefer that we don't use as retribution cancelling $110 billion worth of work," he said. 

Trump also claimed without offering evidence that those arms deals were critical to more than 1 million U.S. jobs.

Several lawmakers, including Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamRestlessness, light rule-breaking and milk spotted on Senate floor as impeachment trial rolls on Senator-jurors who may not be impartial? Remove them for cause Broad, bipartisan rebuke for proposal to pull troops from Africa MORE (R-S.C.) and Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffThe Hill's Morning Report - House prosecutes Trump as 'lawless,' 'corrupt' What to watch for on Day 3 of Senate impeachment trial Democrats' impeachment case lands with a thud with GOP — but real audience is voters MORE (D-Calif.), have said the Saudi government's explanation released Friday for the death of Khashoggi is not credible.

The Saudi government claimed in a statement that after he entered its consulate Khashoggi was involved in a physical altercation that led to his death.

"The claim that Khashoggi was killed while brawling with 15 men dispatched from Saudi Arabia is not at all credible. If he was fighting with those sent to capture or kill him, it was for his life," Schiff tweeted Friday.

Saudi Arabia's statement Friday was the first time it had acknowledged that Khashoggi died after he entered its consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.

Khashoggi was last seen entering the Saudi consulate to obtain documents for his marriage.

Turkish authorities have claimed that Khashoggi was killed and dismembered by Saudi operatives in the consulate.

Before Friday, the Saudi kingdom denied any knowledge of the journalist's whereabouts.

Eighteen Saudi nationals have been arrested and are being questioned in connection with the case, the kingdom said Friday in its statement reported by state-controlled media outlets.

Updated: 9:30 p.m.