President Trump is vowing “severe punishment” for Saudi Arabia over the apparent murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but won’t commit to imposing sanctions — citing his reluctance to lose the multi-billion dollar arms deal that his administration struck with Saudi Arabia in May.
“We’re going to get to the bottom of it, and there will be severe punishment,” the president said during a 60 Minutes interview set to air on Sunday — comments being hailed as his strongest stance yet against Saudi Arabia.
"There will be severe punishment." In his first 60 Minutes interview since taking office, President Trump tells Lesley Stahl that if Saudi Arabia is found to be responsible for journalist Jamal Khashoggi's death, there will be consequences. https://t.co/BRZfIPHbNY pic.twitter.com/s6X98AylBR
— 60 Minutes (@60Minutes) October 13, 2018
But when asked whether he would sanction the Saudis if evidence emerges that they were responsible for murdering Khashoggi, Trump demurred.
“It depends on what the sanction is… I’ll tell you what I don’t want to do. Boeing, Lockheed, Raytheon, all these companies — I don’t want to hurt jobs. I don’t want to lose an order like that,” Trump said, referring to orders of military equipment. “There are other ways of punishing.”
Though a bipartisan group of senators has pushed for sanctioning Saudi Arabia over the journalist’s death, Trump has consistently expressed reluctance to halt military sales to the Gulf kingdom. Earlier this week, he told reporters that halting the arms deal with Saudi Arabia would be “unacceptable to me,” adding, “I don’t like stopping massive amounts of money that’s being poured into our country.”
Saudi Arabia has enjoyed a cozy financial relationship with the United States for decades, and members of President Trump’s administration have been particularly close with Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.
Troubling details about Khashoggi’s mysterious disappearance inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul have continued to emerge this week.
Mohammed bin Salman himself ordered an operation to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia, according to U.S. intelligence officials who intercepted the Saudis’ communication about the plan. Since Khashoggi was a U.S. resident, some intelligence experts believe the president may have been notified about the potential plot against his life ahead of time — raising questions about whether the Trump administration did enough to attempt to ensure Khashoggi’s safety.
“If there was information about potential threats to Jamal Khashoggi before he ever went into that consulate, the question then becomes, ‘Who knew about that in the government?’” Washington Post national security reporter Shane Harris pointed out on MSNBC earlier this week. “And was that ever presented to president?”
According to people close to the Khashoggi family, Khashoggi’s eldest son, Salah — the only one of his children who still lives in Saudi Arabia — also now is being targeted. Saudi officials reportedly imposed a travel ban on Salah and have prevented him from leaving the country for months.
Controversy also is swirling around an upcoming investment conference in Saudi Arabia, the Future Investment Initiative, scheduled for mid-October. Several companies and business leaders have announced they will no longer take part, in light of the unanswered questions over Khashoggi’s apparent murder. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, however, is still set to attend.
The top lawmakers serving on the House Foreign Affairs Committee urged Mnuchin to cancel his plans in a letter sent to Trump this week, writing, “We urge you to use all pressure necessary to encourage greater Saudi cooperation in the investigation into this incident.”