President Trump on Tuesday cautioned against blaming Saudi Arabia for the disappearance of activist Jamal Khashoggi before an investigation was completed.
“I think we have to find out what happened first,” Trump said in an interview with The Associated Press. “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.”
Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was accused by three women of sexual misconduct, triggering widespread debate among lawmakers and the public on his nomination to the nation’s highest court. The Senate ultimately voted to confirm Kavanaugh earlier this month.
Khashoggi, who had written critically about Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for The Washington Post, disappeared two weeks ago during a visit to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Turkish officials have said they feared Khashoggi was killed and dismembered inside the consulate.
The Saudis have called the allegations “baseless," but multiple media outlets reported Monday that the Saudi government may reveal publicly that rogue intelligence operatives murdered Khashoggi by mistake inside the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul earlier this month during an interrogation that went wrong.
The president spoke with Saudi King Salman on Monday, who Trump said insisted he did not have any knowledge of what happened to Khashoggi.
Trump said he didn't “want to get into [Salman's] mind,” but told reporters: “It sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers. I mean, who knows? We're going to try getting to the bottom of it very soon, but his was a flat denial.”
On Tuesday, Trump told The Associated Press that the “rogue killers” suggestion resulted from his “feeling” of his conversation with Salman, and it was not wording used by the king.
The president also spoke with the crown prince on Tuesday, who he later tweeted had “totally denied any knowledge of what took place in their Turkish Consulate” and said an extensive probe into Khashoggi’s disappearance was ongoing.
Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Saudi leaders on Tuesday, including the king and crown prince, and said he stressed the need for a “thorough” investigation. The Saudi leaders “strongly denied any knowledge of what took place in their consulate in Istanbul,” Pompeo said in a news release from the State Department.
“My assessment from these meetings is that there is serious commitment to determine all the facts and ensure accountability, including accountability for Saudi Arabia’s senior leaders or senior officials,” Pompeo said.
After news of Khashoggi’s disappearance surfaced, international leaders and business executives have cut or have considered cutting ties to Saudi Arabia. Trump, however, has stayed on the current course, pointing to a U.S. weapons deal pending with Saudi Arabia and saying that sanctions against them could hurt the U.S. economy.
The president also commented about the ongoing matter during an interview with Fox Business’ Trish Regan Tuesday night.
“Turkey’s looking at it very strongly. We're all looking at it together but Turkey and Saudi Arabia are looking at it very strongly and it depends whether or not the king or the crown prince knew about it, in my opinion,” Trump said. “If they knew about it, that would be bad.”
Fox Business’ Trish Regan and Fox News’ Alex Pappas, Samuel Chamberlain and The Associated Press contributed to this report.