WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Thursday that the U.S. is awaiting for the completion of a Saudi investigation into the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi before deciding on an official response, but that it appears the missing reporter is dead.
"We're waiting for some investigations and we're waiting for the results," Trump said as he departed for a campaign rally in Montana. "I think we'll be making a statement, a very strong statement."
Asked whether Khashoggi was dead, Trump said it was likely. "It certainly looks that way to me. It's very sad," he said.
He expressed similar concerns in an interview with The New York Times.
"Unless the miracle of all miracles happens, I would acknowledge that he's dead," Trump told the paper. "That's based on everything — intelligence coming from every side."
Trump also met with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who had just returned from meetings with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey earlier this week.
"I told President Trump this morning we ought to give them a few more days to complete that so that we, too, have a complete understanding of the facts surrounding that, at which point we can make a decision how or if the United States should respond to the incident surrounding Mr. Khashoggi," Pompeo told reporters at the White House shortly after his meeting with the president.
“There are lots of stories out there about what has happened. We are going to allow the process to move forward,” he added.
Asked whether the Saudis, who have been accused of being responsible for Khashoggi's disappearance, could be trusted to investigate, Pompeo expressed confidence in the kingdom.
“We’re all going to get to see the response from Saudi Arabia to this," he said. "When we see that, we’ll get a chance to determine, all of us will get a chance to make a determination as to the credibility of the work that went into that, whether it’s truly accurate, fair and transparent in the very way they made a personal commitment to me, and ultimately made a personal commitment to the president when they spoke to him.”
He added that Saudi Arabia was also "an important strategic alliance of the United States — we need to be mindful of that as well."
The secretary of state arrived in Turkey on Wednesday as reports of an alleged audio recording of Saudi officials killing Khashoggi were published, putting even more pressure on the White House to deliver a strong rebuke against the crown prince.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin confirmed on Twitter that after meeting with Trump and Pompeo Thursday morning, he would not be attending the Future Investment Initiative summit in Saudi Arabia as initially planned. Many media organizations and business leaders had pulled out of the meeting, dubbed "Davos in the Desert," after Khashoggi's disappearance.
Trump's comments on Thursday were some of his strongest to date.
On Wednesday, Trump cast doubt on the leaked recording, telling reporters he was “not sure yet that it exists,” but that if it was, the U.S. had asked Turkey to share it.
And in an interview with The Associated Press the same day, he compared the accusations following Khashoggi’s disappearance to the sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
“Here we go again with, you know, you're guilty until proven innocent,” Trump said. “We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh, and he was innocent all the way as far as I'm concerned."