WASHINGTON - After six days of silence regarding the fate of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the Trump administration put out its first public statements on the issue on Monday night, following an increased number of reports that Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
The administration has tried to receive information from Saudi Arabia on the subject through diplomatic channels, but it remains unclear whether the efforts have been successful at any level.
Speaking to reporters on the White House lawn on Monday, President Donald Trump said he is "concerned" about Khashoggi’s disappearance. "I don't like hearing about it, and hopefully that will sort itself out," he said. "Right now nobody knows anything about it, but there's some pretty bad stories going around. I do not like it."
Vice President Mike Pence addressed the issue by writing on his Twitter account that he is “Deeply troubled to hear reports about Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi. If true, this is a tragic day. Violence against journalists across the globe is a threat to freedom of the press and human rights. The free world deserves answers.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also published a statement, in which he called on the government of Saudi Arabia “to support a thorough investigation of Mr. Khashoggi's disappearance and to be transparent about the results of that investigation.”
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The administration has come under sharp criticism over the past days for remaining silent, even after multiple reports emerged that Khashoggi was either kidnapped or murdered by Saudi Arabia after entering the country’s consulate to obtain personal documents last week.
The Washington Post published a surveillance image on Tuesday showing Khashoggi walking into the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul a week ago, just before he disappeared. Turkish officials have said they fear the columnist was killed there.
The Post reported there is no footage of Khashoggi leaving the cosulate.
Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen and former government official, was a prominent critic of the current government in Riyadh. He wrote regularly for the Washington Post and frequently appeared on other American media outlets.
Members of Congress from both parties have also intensified their criticism of Saudi Arabia. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham wrote on Twitter that he had discussed the issue with Tennessee Republican Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and with Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on that committee.
“If there was any truth to the allegations of wrongdoing by the Saudi government it would be devastating to the US-Saudi relationship and there will be a heavy price to be paid — economically and otherwise,” Graham wrote.
Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut wrote that if the reports are true, “it should represent a fundamental break in our relationship with Saudi Arabia.” Murphy had earlier offered to work together on the issue with Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, who also warned about dire consequences if indeed it would be proven that Saudi Arabia murdered Khashoggi.
Democratic Senator Tim Kaine from Virginia wrote earlier he would demand the State Department to get answers from Saudi Arabia immediately.
The Saudis have so far denied the reports about Khashoggi, but have failed to provide any evidence that would refute them. It’s unclear if Khashoggi is dead or alive, and where he is being held.