A Codepink demonstrator holds a photograph of journalist Jamal Khashoggi while marching outside the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Trump Defers to Congress on U.S. Response to Khashoggi Killing

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump said he is passing responsibility to Congress for responding to the killing of Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and he criticized the conflicting accounts from Saudi Arabia afterward as “one of the worst” cover-ups in history.

Trump Defers to Congress on U.S. Response to Khashoggi Killing

“In terms of what we ultimately do I’m going to leave it very much -- in conjunction with me -- up to Congress,” Trump told reporters Tuesday in the Oval Office. He added that he wants to receive a bipartisan recommendation on penalties.

Secretary of State Michael Pompeo later said the U.S. is moving against individuals it suspects were involved in the killing, without identifying their names or nationalities. The U.S. is revoking or blocking visas for 21 suspects in the incident, according to State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert. Pompeo said the U.S. is also reviewing the possibility of sanctions against those people.

“These penalties will not be the last word,” Pompeo told reporters at the State Department Tuesday. “We’ve learned a lot over the past few days” and hope to learn a great deal more over next 2-3 days, Pompeo added.

The crisis over the Khashoggi killing continued for a third week as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan laid out his case Tuesday for why he believes Khashoggi’s death was premeditated and not the result of an interrogation or interview gone awry. The same day, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman showed up at a global investment summit in Riyadh that has seen its luster diminished as details of the killing -- and Saudi responsibility -- prompted a number of high profile leaders to skip the gathering.

Trump on Tuesday offered some additional criticism of the Oct. 2 killing and Saudi Arabia’s response to it, saying that it was “a very bad original concept.”

“It was carried out poorly,” Trump added. “And the cover-up was one of the worst in the history of cover-ups.”

Trump said of the attack on the journalist that “whoever thought of that idea, I think, is in big trouble.”

And in an interview with the Wall Street Journal published on Tuesday evening, the president, asked about Prince Mohammed’s possible involvement in the killing, said, "he’s running things and so if anybody were going to be, it would be him." Trump also told the newspaper that he didn’t think the Saudi ruler, King Salman, knew that Khashoggi was a target.

Saudi Arabia has most recently said Khashoggi, a prominent critic of the crown prince, was killed after a discussion at the consulate erupted into a brawl. That account has been questioned by world leaders, and Turkish officials have leaked accounts of audio recordings indicating the journalist was ambushed, beaten, killed and his body dismembered.

Erdogan on Tuesday publicly challenged Saudi explanations and declared the killing a “ferocious” premeditated murder, demanding that Saudi Arabia hold accountable those responsible.

Trump said CIA Director Gina Haspel and other U.S. officials looking into the killing should return from the region Tuesday evening and Wednesday. Trump said later that he would meet with officials involved in the inquiry on Wednesday.

“We’re all meeting tomorrow afternoon,” Trump said during a meeting with military leaders early Tuesday evening. “We’ve gained a lot of information. And we’ll know pretty much everything there is to know, I believe.”

Republicans and Democrats in Congress have both expressed deep skepticism about the Saudi explanation. Some lawmakers have called for stiff penalties on Saudi Arabia. but Congress is out of session to campaign for the Nov. 6 elections and won’t return until the middle of next month.

Trump had previously called Saudi versions credible and sent conflicting signals on how the U.S. should respond, last week calling the journalist’s killing “very bad” but repeatedly emphasizing that he didn’t want to endanger U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia, Saudi investment in the U.S. or the American alliance with the kingdom.

He repeated on Tuesday that it would be “foolish” to impede arms deals or investment flows.

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