WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Tuesday that the effort to conceal the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Turkey was the "worst cover-up ever."
Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump declined to preview what the U.S. would do in response to Khashoggi's death by Saudi operatives.
But he was clear in his view that the operation and its aftermath demonstrated incompetence.
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"They had a very bad original concept, it was carried out poorly, and the cover-up was the worst in the history of cover-ups," he said. "They had the worst-cover up ever."
Shortly after Trump spoke, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. would punish certain Saudis who have been connected to the killing.
"We have identified some of the individuals responsible, including those in the intelligence services, the foreign ministry the royal court and other Saudi ministries whom we suspect to have been involved in Jamal Khashoggi's death," Pompeo said. "We are taking appropriate action, which includes revoking visas ... and taking other measures."
The Saudi government said Tuesday that a 15-member squad was sent to take Khashoggi, a legal resident of the U.S., to a safe house in Turkey for up to two days to try to convince him to return to his homeland. Saudi Arabia has consistently denied that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was aware of the operation, even though some of his lieutenants were involved.
Trump said later that he had spoken to bin Salman and his father, King Salman, and that the prince continued to insist he had nothing to do with the killing.
Despite Pompeo's revelation that visas were being revoked, Trump said that Congress would take the lead in any retaliation against Saudi Arabia.
"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," he said.
Some Republican lawmakers have taken a much harder line against the Saudis.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a strong Trump ally, said earlier this month on Fox News that the U.S. should "sanction the hell out of Saudi Arabia" and that bin Salman should be ousted from power.
Trump reiterated Tuesday that he was reluctant to disrupt a lucrative sale of arms to Saudi Arabia in response to the killing.