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 FlakeTrump's attacks on McCain exacerbate tensions with Senate GOP Schumer to introduce bill naming Senate office building after McCain amid Trump uproar Trump keeps tight grip on GOP MORE (Ariz.), Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioRubio's pragmatic thinking on China The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump feuds heat up Rubio to introduce legislation to keep Supreme Court at 9 seats MORE (Fla.) and Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungOvernight Defense: Senate breaks with Trump on Yemen war | Shanahan hit with ethics complaint over Boeing ties | Pentagon rolls out order to implement transgender ban | Dem chair throws cold water on Space Force budget Senate breaks with Trump on Saudi-led war in Yemen GOP senators introduce bill to rein in president's emergency powers 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 PompeoWhite House rejects Dem request for documents on Trump-Putin communications US calls for Venezuela to release opposition leader's chief of staff Trump: 'It is time' to recognize Israeli control of Golan Heights MORE when he returns to the U.S. from meetings with Saudi and Turkish officials.