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Trump: Rogue Killers Murdered Reporter 10/16 06:21

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Donald Trump suggested Monday that "rogue 
killers" could be responsible for the mysterious disappearance of Saudi 
journalist Jamal Khashoggi, an explanation offering U.S. ally Saudi Arabia a 
possible path out of a global diplomatic firestorm. The Saudis continued to 
deny they killed the writer, but there were indications the story could soon 
change.

   While Trump commented at the White House, Turkish crime scene investigators 
finally entered the Saudi consulate to comb the building where Khashoggi was 
last seen alive two weeks ago.

   Trump spoke after a personal 20-minute phone call with Saudi King Salman and 
as the president dispatched his secretary of state to Riyadh for a face-to-face 
discussion with the king. Late in the day, there were published reports that 
the Saudis were preparing to concede that Khashoggi, a U.S.-based Saudi 
contributor to The Washington Post, had been killed in an interrogation gone 
wrong.

   Before Monday Trump had focused less on possible explanations for 
Khashoggi's likely demise than on possible punishment if the Saudis were found 
culpable.

   "The king firmly denied any knowledge of it," Trump told reporters as he 
left the White House for a trip to survey hurricane damage in Florida and 
Georgia. Trump said he didn't "want to get into (Salman's) mind," but he added, 
"it sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers. I mean, who 
knows? We're going to try getting to the bottom of it very soon, but his was a 
flat denial."

   Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi government and in particular Crown Prince 
Mohammed bin Salman, was last seen entering the consulate on Oct. 2 to get 
paperwork for his upcoming marriage to a Turkish woman. Turkish officials have 
said he was killed and dismembered.

   In a sign of new cooperation between Turkey and Saudi Arabia that could shed 
light on the disappearance, Turkish investigators wearing coveralls and gloves 
entered the consulate Monday. It remained unclear what evidence they might be 
able to uncover. Earlier Monday, a cleaning crew with mops, trash bags and what 
appeared to be bottles of bleach walked in past waiting journalists.

   Trump administration officials told The Associated Press that intelligence 
collected by the U.S. is inconclusive as to what actually happened to 
Khashoggi. With such a lack of clarity, the administration has not ruled out 
any possible scenario. The officials were not authorized to comment publicly on 
the matter and requested anonymity.

   Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, hurriedly sent to Riyadh, expected to get 
more clarity during talks with Saudi leaders Tuesday. The White House expects 
credible answers quickly after Pompeo wraps up his trip with a stop in Ankara 
for meetings with senior Turkish officials.

   The State Department has urged a thorough investigation into Khashoggi's 
disappearance and called on Saudi Arabia to be transparent about the results 
--- advice broadly tracking messages from allies in Europe. Germany, Britain 
and France issued a joint statement over the weekend expressing "grave concern" 
and calling for a credible investigation to ensure those responsible for the 
disappearance "are held to account."

   Trump quoted the King on Monday as saying that neither he nor his son, Crown 
Prince Mohammed, had any information about what had happened to Khashoggi.

   The prince, ambitious, aggressive and just 33 in a kingdom long ruled by 
aging monarchs, has considerable weight in Saudi government actions. He and 
Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, have forged close ties.

   Just last week, Trump vowed to uncover the truth about what happened to 
Khashoggi and promised "severe punishment" for those responsible.  But he has 
said repeatedly that he does not want to halt a proposed $110 billion arms sale 
to Saudi Arabia --- as some in Congress have said he should --- because it 
would harm the U.S. economically.

   Saudi Arabia has pledged to retaliate economically for any U.S. punitive 
action. That would be an unprecedented breach in a decades-old, deep economic 
and security relationship that is key to Washington's policies in the Middle 
East. A Saudi-owned satellite channel later suggested the world's largest oil 
exporter could wield that production as a weapon against America.

   White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said Treasury Secretary Steven 
Mnuchin still plans to attend a previously scheduled Saudi conference this week 
to address terrorist financing, but those plans could change as the 
investigation progresses.

   CNN reported that the Saudis were going to admit the killing had occurred 
but deny the king or crown prince had ordered it. The New York Times reported 
that the Saudi royal court would soon put out a narrative that an official 
within the kingdom's intelligence services --- who happened to be a friend of 
Prince Mohammed --- had carried out the killing. According to that narrative, 
the crown prince had approved an interrogation or rendition of Khashoggi back 
to Saudi Arabia, but the intelligence official was tragically incompetent as he 
eagerly sought to prove himself. Both reports cited anonymous people said to be 
familiar with the Saudi plans.

   Trump said he could not confirm such reports. "I've heard that report but 
nobody's knows if it's an official report. So far it's just the rumor, the 
rumor of a report coming out," he said.

   Turkey has wanted to search the consulate for days. Permission apparently 
came after a late Sunday night call between King Salman and Turkish President 
Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In statements after the call, both praised the creation 
of a joint Saudi-Turkish probe.

   The Turkish inspection team included a prosecutor, a deputy prosecutor, 
anti-terror police and forensic experts, the state-run Anadolu news agency 
reported. Certain areas of the consulate were to remain off-limits, although 
officials would be able to inspect surveillance cameras, Turkish media reported.

   The furor over Khashoggi has dealt a serious setback to Prince Mohammed's 
aggressive pitch for the kingdom as a destination for foreign investment. 
Several business leaders and media outlets have backed out of the upcoming 
investment conference in Riyadh, called the Future Investment Initiative.

   They include the CEO of Uber, a company in which Saudi Arabia has invested 
billions of dollars; billionaire Richard Branson; JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief 
Executive Jamie Dimon and Ford Motor Co. Executive Chairman Bill Ford.


(KA)

 
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