President Trump rubber stamped Saudi Arabia’s implausible explanation about the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, saying late Friday that he believes the arrest of 18 people the country says are connected to Khashoggi’s death is a “good first step.”
“I think it’s a good first step. It’s a big step. It’s a lot of people,” Trump said, speaking at Luke Air Force base in Arizona. “A lot of people involved, and I think it’s a great first step.”
Trump’s remarks came not long after Saudi officials announced, after weeks of shifting stories, that Khashoggi had been killed during a fistfight inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. The explanation does not track with earlier reporting about the case, including alleged intelligence provided by Turkey that Khashoggi’s body was dismembered with a bone saw and removed from the consulate.
But the president has been quick to side with the country in the wake of Khashoggi’s death, often saying he doesn’t want to take economic measures to punish the country.
“I think [blocking arms sales] would be hurting us,” Trump said earlier this month after the initial reports about Khashaggi’s death. “We have jobs, we have a lot of things happening in this country. We have a country that’s doing probably better economically than it’s ever done before.”
Trump reiterated that stance Friday, saying that the country has been a great ally, “but what happened is unacceptable.”
“Congress is very interested in this one, and we’ll be working with Congress,” he said. “But I would prefer, if there’s going to be some form of sanction or what we may determine to do, if anything, because this was a lot of people they’re talking about — people pretty high up — but I would prefer that we don’t use as retribution canceling $110 billion worth of work, which means 600,000 jobs.”
Reuters reported Saturday morning that, according to a senior official in the country, Turkish officials expect to find out “before long” what happened to Khashoggi’s body.
“We’ll find out what happened to the body before long,” the senior official told Reuters. “The DNA is being procured from within Turkey. It seems there will be no need to ask Saudi Arabia at the moment.”
The official also said that they are still focused on examining CCTV footage and traffic records for every car that went in and out of the Saudi Consulate on October 2, the day Khashoggi entered.