President Donald Trump called the killing of Washington-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi “one of the worst cover-ups in the history of cover-ups” while speaking to reporters at the White House on Tuesday.
“They had a very bad original concept,” Trump said in apparent reference to Khashoggi’s killers, according to several White House reporters.
“It was carried out poorly and the cover-up was one of the worst cover-ups in the history of cover-ups. Very simple. Bad deal, should have never been thought of. Somebody really messed up,” he said.
After entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, Khashoggi disappeared. Saudi officials initially claimed he’d left the consulate the day he entered, but two weeks later, they claimed Khashoggi had been killed after a meeting there turned into a fight.
Trump had previously suggested that the Saudi explanation for Khashoggi’s death was credible. Other world leaders and U.S. officials were skeptical, however, with some suggesting that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was involved.
Speaking to Turkish lawmakers on Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan rejected Saudi Arabia’s explanation for Khashoggi’s death and accused top Saudi officials of carrying out premeditated murder.
“The information obtained so far and the evidence found shows that Khashoggi was murdered in a ferocious manner,” Erdogan said.
Trump called Erdogan’s remarks “pretty rough.” He also said he would let Congress decide how to proceed on the matter.
“In terms of what we ultimately do, I’m going to leave it very much — in conjunction with me — I’m going to leave it up to Congress,” Trump said.
Also on Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the U.S. has “identified at least some of the individuals responsible” for Khashoggi’s death, “including those in the intelligence services, the royal court, the foreign ministry and other Saudi ministries.”
The State Department will hold those individuals accountable by revoking their visas or making the ineligible to obtain a visa to enter the U.S., Pompeo said.
“We’re making very clear that the United States does not tolerate this kind of ruthless action to silence Khashoggi, a journalist, through violence,” he said. “Neither the president nor I am happy with this situation.”