WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump on Tuesday criticized rapidly mounting global condemnation of Saudi Arabia over the mystery of missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi, warning of a rush to judgment and echoing the Saudis’ request for patience.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Trump compared the case of Khashoggi to the allegations of sexual assault leveled against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing.
“I think we have to find out what happened first,” Trump said. “Here we go again with, you know, you’re guilty until proven innocent. I don’t like that. We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh and he was innocent all the way as far as I’m concerned.”
The Oval Office interview came not long after Trump spoke Tuesday with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He spoke by phone a day earlier with King Salman.
After speaking with the king, Trump floated the idea that “rogue killers” may have been responsible for the disappearance. The president told the AP on Tuesday that that description was informed by his “feeling” from his conversation with Salman and that the king did not use the term.
“It sounded to me, maybe these could have been rogue killers,” Trump said.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is now in Turkey and has met with President Recep Tayipp Erdogan after the senior US diplomat’s talks with King Salman and the crown prince in Riyadh on the case of Khashoggi.
Pompeo had a brief meeting with the king before a lengthy, 40-minute discussion with the crown prince.
“We are strong and old allies. We face our challenges together,” the crown prince said as he warmly welcomed Pompeo to the Saudi capital.
Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubeir also had talks with Pompeo. “The secretary and the foreign minister agreed on the importance of a thorough, transparent, and timely investigation,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said later.
Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen who lived in the US, disappeared on Oct. 2 after visiting the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to complete paperwork related to his divorce. Saudi Arabia and Turkey have set up a joint team to investigate the disappearance.