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President Donald Trump said on Saturday that Saudi Arabia could face “severe punishment” if it’s confirmed that missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
“We’re going to get to the bottom of it and there will be severe punishment,” Trump said in excerpts of an interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes” released on Saturday morning.
Asked whether Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman gave an order to kill Khashoggi, Trump said “nobody knows yet, but we’ll probably be able to find out.”
“We would be very upset and angry if that were the case,” Trump added.
Khashoggi is a Saudi citizen and critic of the government who vanished last Tuesday after entering the consulate, triggering a major diplomatic crisis for the kingdom.
The Saudi government has denied and condemned the allegations that it killed Khashoggi.
Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Naif bin Abdulaziz, the minister of interior, said in a statement that the allegations that the Saudi government committed the killing of Khashoggi “are outright lies and baseless allegations.”
The statement went on to say that Saudi Arabia is “committed to its principles, rules and traditions and is in compliance with international laws and conventions.”
However, despite the denial, mounting evidence that the Saudis were involved has fueled a growing outcry from foreign governments, U.S. lawmakers and the Trump administration, all of whom have demanded more information.
Turkish authorities have told U.S. officials that they have recordings from inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul that provide evidence that Khashoggi was killed inside, officials told NBC News.
The recordings were key to Turkey being confident enough to say that Khashoggi is dead and that Saudi Arabia killed him, according to both U.S. and Turkish officials, along with other individuals briefed on the intelligence. The Washington Post first reported on the recordings.
The existence of the recordings sheds light on how Turkey was able to conclude so quickly that Khashoggi never left the consulate, as Saudi Arabia has claimed. A senior Turkish official earlier told NBC News that Turkey has 100 percent confidence that Khashoggi was killed in the consulate by a 15-member Saudi team that stayed in Turkey for a brief period and then left.
In the clip CBS released ahead of Sunday’s broadcast, Trump said his son-in-law Jared Kushner spoke with the crown prince, who repeatedly denied having anything to do with Khashoggi’s disappearance.
“They deny it. They deny it every way you can imagine. In the not too distant future I think we’ll know an answer,” the president said.
Despite his own contentious relationship with the press, Trump acknowledged that Khashoggi’s status as a journalist means there is “a lot at stake” as the U.S. decides how to respond.
“There’s a lot at stake, there’s a lot at stake,” Trump said. “And, maybe especially so because this man was a reporter. There’s something — you’ll be surprised to hear me say that — there’s something really terrible and disgusting about that if that was the case so we’re going to have to see.”
But Trump also reiterated his earlier concerns that any punishment shouldn’t impact trade with Saudi Arabia, signaling that cutting off U.S. military sales to the kingdom may not be an option.
“I don’t want to hurt jobs,” he said.
Meanwhile United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres told the BBC he worries that incidents like Khashoggi’s disappearance are becoming a “new normal” as he demanded “the truth” and urged governments to respond appropriately.
“It’s absolutely essential that the international community says this is not something that can happen,” he said.