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Donald Trump: 'Not giving cover' to Saudis in journalist's disappearance

President Donald Trump listens during a cabinet meeting

President Donald Trump listens during a cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Wednesday in Washington, D.C. From left, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, Trump, Small Business Administration administrator Linda McMahon, and Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney. Credit: AP/Evan Vucci

President Donald Trump said he was “not giving cover at all” to Saudi Arabia in the case of missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi even as he continued Wednesday to stress the importance of a U.S. relationship with the Middle East ally.

As evidence against the Saudis mounted Wednesday — including an audio recording Turkey says captures Khashoggi’s struggle and death inside the Saudi  consulate in Istanbul — Trump urged caution about any accusations against the kingdom.  He said the U.S. has asked for the recording.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled this week to Riyadh, the Saudi capital, to meet with  Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. He then went to Ankara, Turkey, to meet with Turkish officials and is expected to return with information, Trump said.

“I just wanna find out what’s happening,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office before conducting a Cabinet meeting. “In fact, Secretary of State Pompeo is gonna be back probably late  tonight or early tomorrow morning. He went to Turkey, he went all over. But he spent a lotta time with the crown prince. And he’s gonna have a full report . . . I’m not giving cover at all.”

Khashoggi, 60, walked into the consulate Oct. 2 for an appointment to pick up a document, and has not been seen since.

Khashoggi, a Saudi national, was living in Virginia and wrote columns for The Washington Post. Khashoggi, who had self-exiled to the United States, criticized the Saudi regime, particularly Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, King Salman's 33-year-old son and the country’s de facto ruler.

Trump did not provide any details about the investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance, and also declined to confirm whether the  FBI was involved in the probe.

According to the Post, Pompeo received a briefing Wednesday on Turkey’s assertions that Khashoggi was killed by Saudi agents, but he did not listen to the audio recording.

In an Associated Press video, Pompeo, before boarding a plane to Turkey, said he told Saudi officials the importance of conducting a complete investigation. 

"They said it would be a thorough, complete and transparent investigation. We will all see the results of that. They made a commitment that they would show the entire world the results of their investigation," Pompeo said.  

Top Saudi officials, including King Salman and the  crown prince, have denied involvement in Khashoggi’s disappearance. On Monday, Trump said “rogue killers” might be to blame, as he deployed Pompeo to the region to speak with Saudi and Turkish leaders.

For nearly two weeks, Trump had dismissed questions about how he would handle U.S.-Saudi relations if it was determined the kingdom was responsible for Khashoggi’s killing. Trump has called Saudi Arabia vital to the U.S. economy.

“They’re an ally, and they’re a tremendous purchaser of, not only military equipment, but other things,”  he said.

Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Monday morning it was “fascinating to watch what Trump‬⁩ will allow the Saudis to do.”

Schumer continued: “Whether it’s killing Yemeni schoolchildren, or ‘accidentally’ murdering a reporter in their own consulate, it seems like they can do no wrong. I wonder why?”

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