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, who Turkish officials have said was murdered in the Saudis’ Istanbul consulate, 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.”
Trump’s remarks were his most robust defense yet of the Saudis, a U.S. ally he has made central to his Mideast agenda.
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, and he said both deny any knowledge of what happened to Khashoggi.
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 King Salman and that the king did not use the term.
Also Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with the king and crown prince in Riyadh and said the Saudis had already started a “serious and credible investigation” and seemed to suggest it could lead to people within the kingdom.
The secretary of state noted that the Saudi leaders, while denying knowledge of anything that occurred inside the consulate, had committed to accountability “including for Saudi Arabia’s senior leaders or senior officials.”
Trump said he hoped the Saudis’ own investigation of Khashoggi’s disappearance would be concluded in “less than a week.”
Saudi Arabia has promised that no one will be exempt from the inquiry into the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Pompeo said Wednesday.
Pompeo spoke on a plane taking him from Riyadh, where he held talks with King Salman and other senior leaders on the case of Khashoggi, to Turkey, where he said was scheduled to meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.