U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is meeting Wednesday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after getting assurances from Saudi leaders that they will “show the entire world” results of a thorough investigation into the disappearance of a U.S.-based Saudi journalist.
Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi monarchy who wrote for the Washington Post, was last seen October 2 entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.
Turkish officials have said Saudi agents killed Khashoggi. Saudi officials say he walked out of the consulate on his own.
The Wall Street Journal reported late Tuesday that Saudi operatives beat and drugged Khashoggi, then killed and dismembered him. The newspaper said Turkish officials have shared evidence, including details of an audio recording, with both Saudi and U.S. officials.
Pompeo told reporters Wednesday before he flew to Turkey that in his meetings with Saudi King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir he stressed the need for a complete investigation and received assurances such a probe would take place.
“They made a commitment, too, to hold anyone connected to any wrongdoing that may be found accountable for that whether they are a senior officer or official,” Pompeo said.
When asked if that would hold true for members of the royal family, Pompeo said the Saudi leaders “made no exceptions to who they would hold accountable.”
Turkish officials have identified 15 suspects they say flew to Istanbul and went to the consulate the day Khashoggi disappeared. The New York Times and Washington Post each reported late Tuesday that several people from that list are linked to Saudi security services and the crown prince.
The Associated Press also quoted an unnamed high-level Turkish official as saying during a search of the consulate Turkish crime scene investigators found evidence of Khashoggi’s killing, but did not give further details. Reuters said investigators found “strong evidence” but no conclusive proof of Khashoggi’s death.
When asked what gives Saudi Arabia the benefit of the doubt amid the various reports about Turkey’s allegations of Saudi responsibility in Khashoggi’s disappearance, Pompeo said he is waiting for Saudi leaders to follow through on their promise for a complete investigation.
“They gave me their word. And we’ll all get to see if they deliver against that commitment,” he said.
U.S. President Donald Trump criticized the growing condemnation of Saudi Arabia in an interview with the Associated Press on Tuesday.
“Here you go again with, you know, you’re guilty until proven innocent,” Trump said.
He compared the situation with that of his recent Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who faced sexual abuse allegations during his confirmation process.
“We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh and he was innocent all the way as far as I’m concerned,” Trump told the AP. “I think we have to find out what happened first.”
While Pompeo was in his meetings in Saudi Arabia, Trump, in Washington, said on Twitter, “For the record, I have no financial interests in Saudi Arabia (or Russia, for that matter). Any suggestion that I have is just more FAKE NEWS (of which there is plenty)!”
But during a 2015 campaign stop, Trump boasted about his business dealings with the Saudis. “Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them,” Trump said. “They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.”
As he dispatched Pompeo to Riyadh on Monday, Trump told reporters at the White House that King Salman’s denials to him about Khashoggi’s fate in a phone call “could not have been stronger.”
But some U.S. lawmakers have all but accepted Turkey’s version of the events, that a team of Saudi agents arrived in Istanbul and killed Khashoggi when he went to the consulate to pick up documents he needed to marry his fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, a Turkish national who waited in vain for Khashoggi to emerge from the consulate.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said Tuesday the United States should “sanction the hell out of Saudi Arabia” over the incident and said he would never again work with the crown prince, assailing him as “toxic” and calling him a “wrecking ball.”
Chris Hannas, Ken Bredemeier and State Department correspondent Nike Ching, contributed to this report.