President Donald Trump said Tuesday he will leave much of the U.S. response to the death of Jamal Khashoggi in the hands of Congress, calling Saudi Arabia’s efforts to muddy what happened to the Washington Post journalist “the worst cover-up ever.”
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the Trump administration is revoking visas for some Saudi officials believed to be involved in Khashoggi’s death.
“We’re making very clear that the U.S. doesn’t tolerate this kind of ruthless action to silence Mr. Khashoggi, a journalist,” Pompeo said.
Turkish President Recep Erdogan earlier Tuesday said his government’s investigation into the incident inside the Istanbul consulate showed a Saudi government plot to lure the columnist there and murder him for criticizing Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
But Trump made clear that no matter what an ongoing U.S. probe of Khashoggi’s death shows, he likely will not cancel American arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Doing so, he said Tuesday, would give that business to Russia, China or France.
“We do that, we’re just hurting ourselves,” the president said of the weapons sales.
“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,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office as he signed water infrastructure legislation.
“Nobody likes what happened” to Khashoggi, he said of himself and other world leaders.
“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, apparently referring to Saudi intelligence officials.
The president also defended his Monday night declaration that he is “a nationalist.”
“I am a nationalist. I’m very proud of our country. I’m somebody that wants to help other countries of the world. But I care about our country,” he said Tuesday, adding the United States as for too long been “duped” on trade and other matters.
So-called allies “have not treated our country fairly.”
The bill signing event became a mini-press conference, with the president, seated behind the Resolute Desk, taking questions on a number of topics.
White House aides have yet to produce a single shred of evidence to support Trump’s claim that “unknown Middle Easterners” are within a large convoy of Central American migrants walking through Mexico toward the United States’ southern border.
Trump admitted Tuesday he possesses no actual proof, but in his signature fashion, he made clear he wants his base to think there might be. He mentioned only that he has “very good information” without describing it or its source.
There “very well could be,” he said hours after Vice President Mike Pence supported his boss by saying it is “inconceivable” that there would not be some folks of Middle Eastern descent inside the group.
Trump has repeatedly increased his description of the migrant caravan’s size. He did so again in the Oval Office, saying he believes as many as 10,000 people are included.
“We’ll have to call up our military if we need to,” Trump said, repeating his hawkish rhetoric about stopping the caravan from crossing the border. “We cannot allow our country to be violated like this.”
He would need a congressional waiver to use active-duty forces; both chambers are in recess. And he would need governors to call up National Guard troops.
Pence Says It’s ‘Inconceivable’ That There Are No People of Middle Eastern Descent in Migrant Caravan