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Trump suggests 'rogue killers' murdered journalist Khashoggi

The US is proposing a $110 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia (Getty)

Date of publication: 15 October, 2018

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Trump suggested "rogue killers" could be responsible for the death of Jamal Khashoggi, shortly before reports suggested Saudi would admit the journalist was killed in a botched interrogation.
In a comment that seemed designed to give Saudi officials a route to climb down from outright denials, President Donald Trump suggested Monday that "rogue killers" could be responsible for the disappearance and presumed murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who hasn't been seen since entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul two weeks ago.

Shortly after Trump's comments, sources told CNN that the Saudis are preparing a report that will acknowledge that Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi's death  was the result of an interrogation that went wrong, but that the kingdom would abdicate reponsibility for the murder.  

Trump's comment came after a 20-minute phone call with Saudi Arabia's King Salman in which Trump said the king adamantly denied any knowledge of what happened to Khashoggi.

Trump announced he'd dispatched Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to the kingdom - and anywhere else necessary - to get to the bottom of the apparent demise of Khashoggi, a Saudi who had been living and working in the United States.

Meanwhile, rumors were rife in Turkey that Saudi Arabia was about to admit Khashoggi was killed but to contend the nation's rulers didn't order it - an explanation that could generally be in line with Trump's comment.

"The king firmly denied any knowledge of it," Trump told reporters as he left the White House for a trip to survey hurricane damage in Florida and in Georgia.

Trump said he didn't "want to get into (Salman's) mind," but told reporters: "it sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers. I mean, who knows? We're going to try getting to the bottom of it very soon, but his was a flat denial."

The comments marked a break from the Trump administration's strenuous refusal to speculate over what happened to Khashoggi and came as the US president is under growing pressure to take action on the case of the Saudi writer, who was a contributor to The Washington Post and wrote columns critical of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Turkish officials say they believe Saudi agents killed and dismembered Khashoggi and say Turkey has audio and video recordings of it.  The kingdom has called the allegations of foul play "baseless" but has offered no evidence the writer left the consulate.

The State Department has urged a thorough investigation and called on Saudi Arabia to be transparent about the results - advice broadly tracking messages from allies in Europe.

Germany, Britain and France issued a joint statement over the weekend expressing "grave concern" and calling for a credible investigation to ensure those responsible for the disappearance "are held to account."

Trump quoted the King on Monday as saying that neither he nor his son, the crown prince, had any information about what had happened to Khashoggi.

The crown prince has considerable weight in Saudi government actions.

He and Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, have forged close ties.

In Istanbul, meanwhile, investigators entered the consulate for their own investigation.  The members arrived by unmarked police cars but said nothing to journalists waiting outside as they entered the building.

Trump tweeted early Monday that Salman denied any knowledge of "whatever may have happened 'to our Saudi Arabian citizen.'"

He made that point again and again as he left the White House, telling reporters, "All I can do is report what he told me."

"His denial to me could not have been stronger," Trump said, echoing language he has used to describe Russian President Vladimir Putin's denials of meddling in the 2016 election that sent Trump to the White House.

Trump last week vowed to uncover the truth about what happened to Khashoggi and promised "severe punishment" for those responsible.

But he has said repeatedly that he does not want to halt a proposed $110 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia, as some in Congress have advocated, because it would harm the US economy.

Saudi Arabia has pledged to retaliate for any US punitive action.



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