Washington: US President Donald Trump has once again risen to the defense of the Saudi government over the mysterious disappearance of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, saying that pinning the blame on Riyadh before knowing all the facts is yet another case of “guilty until proven innocent.”
Trump Tuesday criticized people blaming Saudi Arabia for the disappearance of the US-based journalist and accused them of prejudging the case.
“Here we go again with, you know, you’re guilty until proven innocent. I don’t like that,” Trump said during an interview with The Associated Press.
The US president likened the global outcry against the Saudi government to the controversy surrounding Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was implicated sexual assault during his confirmation process.
“We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh and he was innocent all the way as far as I’m concerned,” Trump said. “So we have to find out what happened.”
Khashoggi, a prominent critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and a US resident, disappeared on October 2 after visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Turkish authorities believe he was tortured and killed inside the building by a team of Saudi operatives who removed his dismembered body.
‘Answers will be forthcoming shortly’
Earlier in the day, Trump wrote in tweets that he had spoken to the Saudi crown prince on the phone and that bin Salman had “denied any knowledge” of the fate of the missing Washington Post columnist.
The American head of state said bin Salman had agreed to “expand” an investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance and that “answers will be forthcoming shortly.”
Trump told AP that he hopes the Saudi investigation concludes in “less than a week.”
The tweets came as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was meeting with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and senior Saudi officials in Riyadh. The US State Department said Pompeo had called for a “thorough, transparent and timely” investigation during the discussions.
The comments mark the second time in two days Trump has vouched for Saudi Arabia’s denials of knowledge about the fate of Khashoggi.
Speaking to reporters following a phone call with King Salman on Monday, Trump suggested that “rogue killers” may be responsible for whatever happened to the missing Washington Post columnist.
But in an interview aired late on Tuesday on Fox Business channel, Trump said it would not bode well Saudi leadership if it is found they were involved in Khashoggi’s case.
“It depends on if the king or the crown prince knew about it in my opinion,” he said. “If they knew about it, that would be bad.”
Since Khashoggi’s disappearance, many members of the US Congress have issued strong criticism of the kingdom and pressured Trump to punish Riyadh, which is one of the United States’ closest allies in the Middle East.
Senator Lindsey Graham vowed to “sanction the hell out of Saudi Arabia” while blaming the crown prince for Khashoggi’s disappearance.
“Nothing happens in Saudi Arabia without MbS knowing it,” he said in an interview with Fox News, abbreviating the crown prince’s name.
“I’ve been their biggest defender on the floor of the United States Senate,” said Graham. “This guy is a wrecking ball. He had this guy murdered in a consulate in Turkey and to expect me to ignore it. I feel used and abused. The MbS figure is to me toxic. He can never be a world leader on the world stage.”
Intelligence intercepts show that Khashoggi, who was last seen entering the Saudi mission in Istanbul two weeks ago, was murdered on bin Salman’s direct order.
Turkish officials have also obtained recordings that prove he was indeed murdered at the hands of Saudi killing squads. There are also reports that bin Salman’s personal guard carried out the murder and took Khashoggi’s dismembered body back to Saudi Arabia.
Riyadh, however, has firmly denied any knowledge of the journalist’s fate.
Those responsible will be ‘held to account’
US Vice President Mike Pence said the Trump administration has also demanded answers in the disappearance of the Virginia-based journalist, pledging that those responsible for what happened to the Saudi dissident would be “held to account.”
“We’re going to get to the bottom of it. It’s important that the world know the truth,” Pence said.
“If in fact Mr. Khashoggi was murdered, we need to know who was responsible … and it’s even more important that he was a member of a free and independent press,” Pence added. “Any loss of life is grievous. Any act of violence that claims a life is to be condemned, but this was also an assault on a free and independent press. So, we’re going to demand answers. The world deserves answers.”
Besides the United Nations, major European countries such as Germany, France and the UK have also called for clarity from Riyadh on the dissident journalist’s case.