As Democratic and Republican lawmakers continue to demand that something must be done to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for the disappearance of journalist and Saudi insider-turned critic Jamal Khashoggi, President Trump said Friday that he hasn't spoke with King Salman about his whereabouts, despite a mounting pile of evidence produced by the Turkish government suggesting that Khashoggi was murdered by a team of Saudi hitmen inside the Kingdom's consulate in Istanbul.
However, the president said he plans to call Salman soon to discuss the issue:
"I will be calling, I will be calling at some point King Salman. I’ll be speaking to him yes," Trump told reporters in Ohio, where he is attending campaign events.
Since Khashoggi's Turkish fiance notified Turkish officials about Khashoggi's disappearance after he walked into the consulate and never walked back out on Oct. 2, speculation that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman ordered Khashoggi's murder has morphed into a full-blown diplomatic crisis. When asked about what he would do if confronted with proof that Khashoggi was, in fact, murdered at the consulate - a scenario that appears more likely with each passing day amid relentless stonewalling by the Saudis - Trump told Fox News Night that he would be reluctant to block US arms sales to the Kingdom, as some lawmakers have demanded.
NBC News upped the pressure on the US government to demand an explanation from the Saudis, who have reportedly been resisting the State Department's attempt at an investigation, when it reported that the Turkish government had the Saudi government bugged, and is in possession of audio evidence that Khashoggi was murdered at the consulate in what may have been a rendition attempt gone wrong, and that his body was dismembered and his remains smuggled out of the building.
Still, the US government is treading carefully.
"We're going slow," one White House official reportedly told CNN in reference to the US's attempt to handle the issue with the appropriate deference due to a strategic US ally and trading partner.
And in light of the torrent of leaks to Western media via anonymous Turkish officials, US officials are speculating that the Trump Administration's cautious approach could reflect "lingering concerns" about the information being circulated by the Turkish government - and not solely the bloodless cost-benefit calculations necessitated by the US's foreign policy interests.
All of this begs the question: If Turkey does release undeniable evidence that Khashoggi was killed, how would the US react? And what would happen if the US resists pressure to withhold its support from Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
Perhaps President Trump is right after all...
"It is potentially a really, really terrible situation, so we'll see what happens," he said.
After all, there's no denying that Saudi Arabia is one of the US defense industry's most reliable customers. Would the US really let the killing of one journalist foil the purchase of all those arms?