Trump's Saudi Arms Deal a Tougher Sell in Senate After Journalist Disappearance, Lawmakers Warn
WASHINGTON -- Senators are threatening to hold a multi-billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia over the disappearance of a Virginia resident believed by U.S. intelligence and Turkish officials to have been murdered and dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last week.
Saudi journalist in exile Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post global affairs columnist, went into the consulate Oct. 2 to get a document needed to marry his Turkish fiancee. She waited outside for 11 hours, but he never emerged.
Turkish officials reportedly told their U.S. counterparts that there is strong video and audio evidence that Khashoggi was killed. “You can hear his voice and the voices of men speaking Arabic,” a source told the Post. “You can hear how he was interrogated, tortured and then murdered.”
The U.S. also reportedly had information before the incident that the Saudis had a plan to try to detain Khashoggi.
President Trump told reporters at an Oval Office signing Thursday that "we're looking at it very strongly" and "we'll be having a report out soon."
"We're working with Turkey, we're working with Saudi Arabia. What happened is a terrible thing, assuming that happened. I mean, maybe we'll be pleasantly surprised, but somehow I tend to doubt it. And we take it very seriously," Trump said.
"It's not our country. It's in Turkey, and it's not a citizen, as I understand it. But a thing like that shouldn't happen. It is a reporter with the Washington Post, and it's -- something like that should not be allowed to happen," he added. "Something like that should not happen. And we intend to get to the bottom of it."
Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told CNN on Thursday that "all the indicators point to Saudi Arabia -- and if it turns out to be Saudi Arabia, as I've said before, there'll be all hell to pay."
"You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to be concerned here. And if this is done at the hands of the Saudi government, if the crown prince was involved in this in anyway, it will virtually destroy his ability to lead his country on the international stage," Graham added. "...We'd hit them in the wallet and everything, in my view, would be on the table."
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told reporters, "My instincts say that there is no question that the Saudi government did this, and my instincts say that they murdered him."
Khashoggi lived in the suburban D.C. district of Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), who argued in an op-ed at The Hill that "Congress must lead if the administration won’t."
"When Russian authorities attempted to poison and murder two Russian citizens on British soil earlier this year, Britain and the entire international community, including the United States, reacted with punitive measures against Russia. This included the expulsion of diplomats and additional sanctions," the congressman wrote. "We have to stand ready to react with similar strength and unity if it is determined this act against Khashoggi was carried out by Saudi Arabia. It is not acceptable behavior and those responsible for it will be held to account, no matter how high up it may go."