Saudi authorities staged the “worst cover-up ever” in the killing of prominent journalist Jamal Khashoggi, President Donald Trump has said as the US announced its first punitive action in the case by revoking the visas of some of the senior Saudi officials involved.
Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post, disappeared after he entered the Saudi consulate in Turkey on October 2 to collect a document for his upcoming marriage to a Turkish woman.
The Saudi government initially said he left the consulate through the back door.
Following a global outrage, Riyadh on Friday in a statement acknowledged that Khashoggi was killed in a fistfight inside the consulate after an interrogation went wrong.
Trump offered his most stinging indictment yet of a Saudi effort to silence a dissident journalist, calling the series of events that led to Khashoggi’s death “the worst cover up ever.”
“They (the Saudis) had a very bad original concept. It was carried out poorly. And the cover-up was one of the worst in the history of cover-ups. Very simple. Bad deal. Should have never been thought of. Somebody really messed up. And they had the worst cover-up ever,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office Tuesday.
Khashoggi’s death has severely dented the international reputation of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday that the US had “identified at least some” of the Saudi officials involved in the killing of Khashoggi and was revoking their visas.
“These penalties will not be the last word on this matter from the United States. We will continue to explore additional measures to hold those accountable,” Pompeo said. “We’re making very clear that the United States does not tolerate this kind of ruthless action to silence Mr Khashoggi, a journalist, through violence.”
The US will continue to seek all relevant facts, consult the Congress, and work with other nations, to hold accountable those responsible for the killing of Khashoggi, Pompeo told reporters.
Given the information, currently, available with the United States, the administration is taking appropriate actions, he said.
The visa revocation is the first punitive action the US has taken against Saudi Arabia since the death of Khashoggi, 60.
Responding to a question on the probe into the death of Khashoggi, Trump said, “And where it should have stopped is at the deal standpoint, what they thought about it. Because whoever thought of that idea, I think, is in big trouble. And they should be in big trouble.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the “savage murder” of the journalist was meticulously planned, and demanded that all those linked to the killing face punishment.
He, however, acknowledged Turkey was still searching for answers to key questions, including who gave the order.
Trump told reporters that Erdogan was pretty tough on Saudi Arabia.
“He was pretty rough on Saudi Arabia, I would say. I haven’t gotten a full recap, as you know. I have people in Turkey and I have people in Saudi Arabia and other places, and they’re all coming back as we speak, they’re heading back,” he said.
The Trump administration has sent CIA Director Gina Haspel to Turkey and she is expected to be back soon in the US with details of the ongoing probe.
“I’ll know, I think, everything in a very short period of time. It’s a bad situation. But certainly, president Erdogan was not complimentary of what happened. That was a terrible thing that happened,” Trump said.
Trump reiterated that he does not want to scrap the USD 110 billion mega arms deal with Saudi Arabia and the total investment of USD450 billion from that country, but did not rule out not taking any action against the Saudis.
“I want to see the facts first. Look, Saudi Arabia’s been a really great ally. They’ve been one of the biggest investors, maybe the biggest investor, in our country….They are doing hundreds of billions of dollar’s worth of investments. And, you know, so many jobs. So many jobs. Thousands and thousands of jobs,” he said.
During his visit to Saudi Arabia in May 2017, Trump signed an agreement with the Saudis for them to purchase USD 110 billion of US weapons, although so far only USD 43 billion of that has been detailed.
The ultimate number is around USD450 billion. I think that’s over a million jobs. A million to over a million jobs. So we do that, we’re just hurting ourselves. We’re just hurting ourselves,” Trump said.
(With inputs from agencies)