GOP senator: Not 'appropriate' for Mnuchin to go to Saudi conference

GOP senator: Not 'appropriate' for Mnuchin to go to Saudi conference
© Anna Moneymaker

Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) on Wednesday said that it would not be "appropriate" for Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to attend a conference in Saudi Arabia next week in the wake of the disappearance and potential slaying of a U.S.-based journalist.

"If I were king for a day — I'm not, don't want to be — I don't think until we can get all this worked out, I don't think it's appropriate that he go," Kennedy said, asked about Mnuchin attending the "Davos in the Desert" summit.

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The Louisiana senator added that Mnuchin deciding not to attend is "certainly one of the options of expressing our condemnation" of Saudi Arabia's potential involvement in the disappearance of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi, who was a critic of Saudi leadership.

Khashoggi was last seen Oct. 2 entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to get paperwork needed for his marriage.

Kennedy added that while he wanted the United States to "express our condemnation" he didn't want to cut off Saudi Arabia completely.

"I don't agree with my colleagues who say that that means we just discovered that Saudi Arabia is an authoritarian government and we're not going to have anything to do with them ever again. Because if you take that position you're inviting trouble in the Middle East. That's just the way it is," he said.

But, Kennedy is one of a growing number of Republican senators urging Mnuchin not to attend the summit.

In addition to Kennedy, Republican Sens. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFlake donates to Democratic sheriff being challenged by Arpaio in Arizona The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says US-China trade talks to resume, hails potential trade with Japan, UK Joe Arpaio to run for Maricopa County sheriff in 2020  MORE (Ariz.), Marco RubioMarco Antonio Rubio The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation GOP group's ad calls on Graham to push for election security: 'Are you still trying?' Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick joins CBS News as contributor MORE (Fla.) and Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungSenators pressure Trump to help end humanitarian crisis in Kashmir Congress set for chaotic fall sprint Overnight Defense: Senate fails to override Trump veto on Saudi arms sales | Two US troops killed in Afghanistan | Senators tee up nominations, budget deal ahead of recess MORE (Ind.) have each said they do not believe the top Treasury Department official should travel to Saudi Arabia next week.

"Secretary Mnuchin should not be going to Riyadh," Flake said in a tweet on Tuesday.

Several high-profile figures — including retired general and investment executive David Petraeus and JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon — have pulled out of the conference in the wake of Khashoggi's disappearance.

Bloomberg reported on Wednesday that Mnuchin is still planning to attend the conference, but will revisit the decision on Thursday.

Trump told reporters in Georgia that he had not made a final decision on whether Mnuchin would back out of attending the conference, but expected a decision would be made by Friday.

Saudi Arabia has denied wrongdoing in Khashoggi's disappearance. The country initially said he left the consulate shortly after he arrived, though they didn't provide any evidence to back up that claim.

CNN reported on Monday that Saudi Arabia was readying a report that would acknowledge Khashoggi's death was the result of an interrogation that went wrong. One source told CNN that the report would likely find that the interrogation was carried out "without clearance."

Trump on Wednesday said the U.S. has requested audio and video from Turkey related to Khashoggi's disappearance. 

"We have asked for it, if it exists," Trump said in the Oval Office, later conceding it "probably does."

Trump said he expected to get a "full report" from Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoSchiff: Diplomacy with Iran 'only way out of this situation' Bolton exit provokes questions about Trump shift on Iran Buttigieg: Not too late for US to be 'constructive force' in Middle East MORE when he returns to the U.S. from meetings with Saudi and Turkish officials.