Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisted during a press briefing that the Trump administration was taking the investigation into the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi “very seriously." Democrats, meanwhile, continue to accuse the White House of covering for the Saudis.
Turkish authorities searched the house of the Saudi consul general on Wednesday, but so far there have been few answers in this case.
What happened to Jamal Khashoggi?
Khashoggi disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate on Oct. 2 in Istanbul. He had been trying to finalize his divorce so that he could marry his fiancée. He frequently criticized the Saudi regime and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, including in his Washington Post column.
What has the Trump administration said?
On Thursday, Pompeo told reporters that he had spoken with President Donald Trump and that they took the matter “very seriously.” However, he also pointed to the longstanding relationship that the United States has with Saudi Arabia, noting that the two have been allies since 1933, and emphasized that he wanted the investigation to conclude before he accused the Saudis of anything. He said that after the Saudis released their report on the disappearance, he would decide if it was “accurate” or “fair.”
Asked about the stories that have been circulating in the media involving Khashoggi's murder, Pompeo refrained from commenting on which ones he thought were credible.
Instead, he said, “There are lots of stories out there about what has happened. We're just going to allow the process to go forward, allow the facts to unfold.”
The day before their meeting, Trump said that he hoped to find out the true story of what happened soon.
"I want to find out what happened, where is the fault, and we will probably know that by the end of the week," the president stated. "But Mike Pompeo is coming back, we're gonna have a long talk."
Democrats say the president has been defending the Saudis
Democrats have accused Trump of defending the Saudis.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) speculated Wednesday on Twitter about what Trump would “allow the Saudis to do. Whether it's killing Yemeni school children, or 'accidentally' murdering a reporter in their own consulate, it seems like they can do no wrong. I wonder why?”
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) went on MSNBC's hardball and accused Trump of having “no moral compass,” and covering for the Saudis because they “like him” and “invest in them.”
One issue that critics of the president have called into question is a $100 million payment from the Saudi government to the United States that went through on Tuesday. That same day, Pompeo flew to the Saudi capital of Riyadh to meet with Saudi leadership regarding Khashoggi's disappearance.
This payment had been promised by the Saudi government in August, in order to support U.S. efforts in Syria. The state department's envoy to the anti-Islamic State coalition, Brett McGurk, told the Washington Post in a statement that the U.S. “always expected the contribution to be finalized in the fall time frame.”
He added that “[t]he specific transfer of funds has been long in process and has nothing to do with other events or the secretary’s visit.”
On Monday, Trump also referred to a Saudi government theory that the murder may have been committed by “rogue killers.”
Trump has denied that he was “giving cover" to the Saudis, and insisted that he just wants to have all the facts before reaching a conclusion.
What else do we know?
Turkish officials have implicated 15 Saudi men in Khashoggi's disappearance, including 12 who are tied to Saudi security, and four who have ties to the Saudi royal family and the crown prince.
Of these men, Mashal Saad al-Bostani, reportedly died in a car crash in Saudi Arabia, according to the Turkish government propaganda outlet Yeni Şafak. It is not clear yet if this report is accurate. This is the same outlet that reported that the Saudi team had removed Khashoggi's fingers before beheading him.
On Wednesday, Turkish investigators searched the Saudi consul general's residence in Istanbul. CCTV footage had shown cars traveling between the residence and the consulate where Khashoggi was last seen, less than two hours after Khashoggi disappeared.
While it was likely what led to his disappearance, Khashoggi was not banned from Saudi Arabia for speaking out against the regime or against the crown prince. Instead, he had been banned for referring to Trump's Middle East policies as “contradictory.”
On Wednesday, the Post published Khashoggi's final column, which had been submitted by his translator the day after he disappeared. The Post said that it had held off on publishing the column in the hopes that Khashoggi would return.