Trump spoke to Saudis about missing journalist: ‘We’ll get to the bottom of it’


<pMore than a week after a prominent Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist went missing, President Donald Trump has spoken to Saudi officials "at the highest level" to press them on his disappearance, he said Wednesday.

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Add Donald Trump as an interest to stay up to date on the latest Donald Trump news, video, and analysis from ABC News.Donald TrumpAdd Interest<pTrump declined to comment on whether he would hold the Saudis responsible, saying, "I have to find out who did it." But he said the U.S. is demanding answers: "We're demanding everything, we want to see what's going on here."

<pCritics have accused the White House<p"We cannot let this happen — to reporters, to anybody," he added during an Oval Office meeting with the Secretary of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator.

<pIn addition to Trump's call, National Security Adviser John Bolton and Senior Adviser Jared Kushner spoke to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the real power behind his father King Salman, on Tuesday, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo following up in a separate call "to reiterate the United States request for information," according to White House press secretary Sarah Sanders.

<pAll three officials pressed MBS, as the Crown Prince is known, for more details and urged his government to support a transparent investigation, Sanders added.

<pVice President Mike Pence said Wednesday the U.S. is "ready to assist in every way," but the State Department wouldn't say if an actual offer of assistance was made to the Turkish government as it investigates.

<pIn addition to the Saudis, State Department officials have also been in touch with Turkish authorities, but the agency's deputy spokesperson Robert Palladino wouldn't say whether Turkey has shared any of its findings with the U.S. — declining to get ahead of their investigation, even as Turkish officials have leaked details of it to the press.


(MORE: US declines to take sides in heated Saudi, Canadian fight over human rights)<p

<pThat's because Turkey wants U.S. support before it accuses Saudi Arabia, an important trading partner, of a murder plot, according to analysts who spoke with ABC News, and the Turks are nervous that the U.S. will not come to their support because of its close ties to MBS. It has vouched for the Saudis on their bombing campaign in Yemen and refused to pick a side between Canada and Saudi Arabia in their diplomatic row over human rights.


(MORE: Critics fire back at Pompeo’s claim that Saudi-led coalition is minimizing civilian deaths in Yemen<p

<pBut to many on Capitol Hill, this could mark a turning point. Twenty-two senators, including every member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee but two, signed a letter to Trump Wednesday that requires him to now conduct an investigation within 120 days to determine if someone violated Khashoggi's human rights and, if so, sanction anyone found responsible. Those violations include torture, prolonged detention without charges, abduction, or killing.

<p"If Saudi Arabia took a U.S. resident, lured him into a consulate and killed him, it's time for the United States to rethink our military, political, and economic relationship with Saudi Arabia," said Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat.

<pSeveral Republicans agreed, even those who've had closer ties or warmer words for the Saudis and the young Crown Prince who many have painted as a reformer.

<p"If it plays out that the Saudi Arabian government has mistreated this man because of his dissident voice in Istanbul, it will be a game changer for me," Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said, with Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., telling reporters if the allegations are true, "It'll have a dramatic and negative impact on our bilateral relationship.

<pSome called for the president to do more: "What we need now is for the president to get serious about questioning Saudi Arabia and letting them know what information is out there and asking them to explain. I've heard no good explanation so far," said Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.



<pIt's unclear what the U.S. knows about Khashoggi's disappearance, but Trump did cast some doubt on the reports that Khashoggi was murdered.

<p"Nobody knows what happened yet. They don't know over there," he said, although it's unclear if he meant the Saudis did not know or if Turkish authorities who are investigating still do not know.

<pBut U.S. intelligence reportedly intercepted communications between Saudi officials discussing a plan to capture him, the Washington Post reported Wednesday.

<p"Although I cannot comment on intelligence matters, I can say definitively the United States had no advance knowledge of Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance," Palladino said in response during a department press briefing — notably not commenting on any capture operation.

<pGiven the elaborate details of the reported plot, the U.S. must have known something, according to Ned Price, a former special assistant to President Obama on the National Security Council staff and someone who also worked at the CIA.

<p"It seems rather implausible that no one knew something like this was coming, and the question then becomes what was done about it," he told ABC News. "Did they perform their duty to warn function, or was that duty to warn overridden in this case because of this administration's close and cozy relationship with the Saudis?"

<pAfter Khashoggi's fiance wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post, pleading for Trump and his wife Melania's help, the president said that the first lady's office was working on inviting her to the White House.