Trump Says He’s Spoken With Saudis at ‘Highest Level’ Over Khashoggi

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump said he has spoken with Saudi Arabia “at the highest level” about the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and prominent critic of his country’s royal family, who was last seen entering the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.

Trump, speaking to reporters Wednesday in the Oval Office, said that Khashoggi’s fiancée had sent a letter addressed to the president and first lady Melania Trump, and may come to the White House soon. When asked whether he has spoken to the Saudis, Trump said “I’d rather not say, but the answer is yes.”

When asked with whom he had spoken, Trump declined to provide a name but said it was at “the highest level.” He added that talks had happened “more than once” in recent days but didn’t provide details of the conversation.

Shortly after Trump’s remarks, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement that National Security Adviser John Bolton, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke with Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman on Tuesday about Khashoggi’s disappearance. She didn’t mention any calls by the president.

“I’m not happy about it,” Trump said of Khashoggi’s disappearance. When asked whether he’s demanding answers from the Saudis, Trump said, “yes we are. We are demanding everything.”

“We want to see what’s going on there,” he said. “That’s a bad situation. Frankly, because it’s a reporter, you could say in many respects, it brings it to a level. It’s a very serious situation for us."

The New York Times reported Wednesday that Turkish officials believe Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate, at the orders of Saudi Arabia’s leadership. The Times and the Washington Post both reported that private planes carrying Saudi Arabian agents arrived in Istanbul shortly before and after Khashoggi entered the consulate and left the same day. Khashoggi was a Post columnist.

Saudi officials have denied Khashoggi was killed within the consulate and say he left shortly after arriving to retrieve a document related to his upcoming wedding. They have provided no evidence of his departure.

Trump on Monday said he was “very concerned about it." He added that “there’s some pretty bad stories going around -- I do not like it.” Secretary of State Michael Pompeo has called for Saudi Arabia to support an investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance.

Prince Mohammed told Bloomberg News in an interview last week that Khashoggi had left the consulate shortly after entering it last week and that he was ready to let Turkey search the building.

Khashoggi, who had been living in self-imposed exile for the past year, vanished on Oct. 2, after he entered the consulate to obtain a document. Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said he was personally involved in the case, which threatens ties between Ankara and Riyadh.

If evidence implicates the Saudi government in Khashoggi’s disappearance or death, it would indicate a new level of violence that authorities are willing to undertake to silence criticism of the crown prince, whose jailing of opponents at home has undercut his efforts to fashion himself as a modernizer of his conservative kingdom.

“We’re working very closely with Turkey and I think we’ll get to the bottom of it,” Trump said Wednesday.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker said Tuesday that he told the Saudi ambassador the Khashoggi’s disappearance could lead the U.S. to curtail arms sales to the kingdom.

The Senate “barely” approved the last round of arms sales, Corker said he told Prince Khalid bin Salman. “I very much doubt we could pass another one,” Corker said.

Corker said Wednesday that he had warned the kingdom that its political support in the Senate is “the lowest ever” and that if Saudi officials are responsible for Khashoggi’s disappearance, “this would drop it off a cliff.”

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