A Codepink demonstrator wears a mask of Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, outside the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)  

Trump Says He’s ‘Not Satisfied’ as Mnuchin Meets Saudi Prince

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump said he’s still not satisfied with Saudi Arabia’s explanation of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s death as U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh.

Trump, speaking to reporters Monday on the White House lawn before leaving for a rally in Houston, said he had spoken with Prince Mohammed and is awaiting findings from “tremendously talented people” dispatched to Turkey and Saudi Arabia who were due to return to the U.S. within the next day to brief him on their findings.

Trump Says He’s ‘Not Satisfied’ as Mnuchin Meets Saudi Prince

“I will know very soon” what happened to Khashoggi, Trump said. “I am not satisfied with what I’ve heard.”

Trump didn’t elaborate on his conversation with Prince Mohammed, nor did he say which agency is investigating Khashoggi’s death or what they are examining. The Washington Post, quoting two unnamed sources, said that CIA Director Gina Haspel was headed to Turkey.

In an interview with USA Today that was published Monday night, Trump called the killing “foolish and stupid,” but said he thought that it was a “plot gone awry.”

Meanwhile, Mnuchin met with Prince Mohammed on Monday to discuss the unfolding Khashoggi investigation, as well as combating terrorist financing, sanctions against Iran and Saudi economic issues, Treasury spokesman Tony Sayegh said on Twitter.

Following the meeting, the Saudi foreign ministry tweeted a photo of the two seated beside each other: “#Crown Prince meets with the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury and stresses the importance of Saudi-US strategic partnership, where it holds an important role in the future in line with the Kingdom’s #Vision2030,” referring to Prince Mohammed’s plan to attract foreign investment.

Mnuchin proceeded with the meeting even as government leaders and corporate executives in Europe and around the world distanced themselves from the Saudi regime amid outrage over the killing. Trump is preparing to tighten oil sanctions on Iran and the administration is counting on Saudi cooperation to make up for the loss of supply and soften potential price increases.

Mnuchin is in the Middle East for a previously planned trip to the region.

The Saudi government admitted late Friday that the dissident writer had died after what they said was a fight within the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate, where he sought to obtain a document related to his planned wedding. Turkish media and officials have said the Washington Post contributor, a critic of the royal family, was killed and dismembered by a 15-man team that flew in from the kingdom for the day.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, said the White House is still gathering facts on Khashoggi’s murder and wants to preserve the U.S. alliance with Saudi Arabia, downplaying the role of the kingdom’s government in the death.

“I see things that are deceptive every day,” he said Monday at a CNN event in New York after he was asked if the Saudi government had been deceptive about Khashoggi’s death in its Istanbul consulate. “I see them in the Middle East, I see them in Washington.”

“We have our eyes wide open,” he added.

Kushner has developed a personal relationship with Prince Mohammed, who some Republican senators have said is responsible, directly or not, for Khashoggi’s death.

Kushner said he had advised Prince Mohammed to be “transparent” about the incident. Asked whether the administration is reassessing the crown prince as an ally, Kushner said that “once we have all the facts then we’ll make an assessment.”

“Right now as an administration we’re more in the fact-finding phase and we’re obviously getting as many facts as we can from the different places,” Kushner said. “We have to be able to work with our allies, and Saudi Arabia has I think been a very strong ally.”

He said the kingdom has helped the U.S. combat Iranian influence in the Mideast. Saudi Arabia and Iran are engaged in what amounts to a proxy war in Yemen, where they are supporting opposing sides in a bloody civil war. The kingdom has come under criticism for civilian deaths from its bombing campaign in the country.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.