By Jeff Mason and David Dolan
US President Donald Trump said on Monday he was still not satisfied with what he has heard from Saudi Arabia about the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but did not want to lose investment from Riyadh.
Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, disappeared three weeks ago after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain documents for his upcoming marriage.
Riyadh initially denied knowledge of his fate before saying he was killed in a fight in the consulate, a reaction greeted sceptically by several Western governments, straining relations with the world’s biggest oil exporter.
“I am not satisfied with what I’ve heard,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “I don’t want to lose all that investment that’s been made in our country.
“But we’re going to get to the bottom of it.” Trump made similar comments on Saturday about being unsatisfied with the Saudi response to the killing.
Trump on Monday said he spoke with the crown prince and that there are Americans in Saudi Arabia and US intelligence officers in Turkey working on the Khashoggi case who are returning Monday night or Tuesday.
Turkish officials suspect Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate by Saudi agents and his body cut up. Turkish sources say authorities have an audio recording purportedly documenting the murder of the 59-year-old.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has said he will release information about the investigation in a speech on Tuesday.
As incredulity deepened over Saudi Arabia’s account, comments from Trump have varied. He has appeared at times to play down Riyadh’s role in the incident, but also warned of potential economic sanctions. He has repeatedly highlighted the kingdom’s importance as an ally.
Earlier on Monday, Trump’s son-in-law, White House adviser Jared Kushner, said he had urged Saudi Arabia’s crown prince to be transparent about Khashoggi and told him “the world is watching” Riyadh’s account of the journalist’s disappearance.
Kushner has cultivated a personal relationship with Prince Mohammed and urged Trump to act with caution to avoid upsetting a critical strategic and economic relationship, a senior administration official said.
In an interview with CNN on Monday, Kushner said he had told the crown prince: “Just to be transparent, to be fully transparent. The world is watching. This is a very, very serious accusation and a very serious situation.”
Asked how the prince responded, Kushner said: “We’ll see.”
On Sunday, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister, Adel al-Jubeir, said Khashoggi had died in a rogue operation. But some of his comments appeared to contradict previous statements from Riyadh, marking yet another shift in the official story.Several countries, including Germany, Britain, France and Turkey, have pressed Riyadh to provide all the facts, and Chancellor Angela Merkel said Berlin would not export arms to Saudi Arabia while uncertainty over Khashoggi’s fate persisted.
For Saudi Arabia’s allies, the question will be whether they believe that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has painted himself as a reformer, has any culpability. King Salman, 82, has handed the day-to-day running of Saudi Arabia to him.
Further complicating the narrative, the explanation of Jubeir, the foreign minister, has appeared to depart from previous official statements.
He said the Saudis did not know how Khashoggi had died. That contradicted the public prosecutor’s statement a day earlier that Khashoggi died after a fistfight with people who met him inside the consulate. It also contradicted two Saudi officials’ comments to Reuters that it was a chokehold that killed him.
A member of the team dressed in Khashoggi’s clothes to make it appear as if he had left the consulate, a Saudi official has said. Support for that strand of the account appeared to come from footage aired by CNN showing a man dressed as Khashoggi walking around Istanbul. CNN described the images as law enforcement surveillance footage.
Some top US lawmakers turned their ire on the crown prince and said they believed he ordered the killing. “Do I think he did it? Yes, I think he did it,” Republican Senator Bob Corker, the influential chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in an interview with CNN.