Trump 'not satisfied' with explanations of Khashoggi death

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump said Monday he's not satisfied with the explanations he's heard about the death of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi and is awaiting reports from U.S. personnel returning from the region.

Khashoggi, who lived in the United States and wrote critically about the Saudi royal family, died earlier this month at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Saudi Arabia said he was killed in a fistfight, but Turkish officials said the 59-year-old Washington Post columnist was attacked and killed by a 15-man Saudi team.

Asked if he believed Saudi Arabia's explanation, Trump said, "I am not satisfied with what I've heard."

"We're going to get to the bottom of it. We have people over in Saudi Arabia now. We have top intelligence people in Turkey. They're coming back either tonight or tomorrow," Trump told reporters on the South Lawn of the White House before leaving for a political rally in Texas.

"We're going to know a lot over the next two days about the Saudi situation," said Trump. "It's a very sad thing."

18 PHOTOS
Murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi
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Murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - OCTOBER 05: People hold posters of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi during a protest organized by members of the Turkish-Arabic Media Association at the entrance to the Saudi Arabia Consulate on October 5, 2018 in Istanbul, Turkey. Saudi Consulate officials have said that missing writer and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi went missing after leaving the consulate, however the statement directly contradicts other sources including Turkish officials who believe that the writer is still inside and being held by Saudi officials. Jamal Khashoggi a Saudi writer critical of the Kingdom and a contributor to the Washington Post was living in self -imposed exile in the U.S. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - OCTOBER 07: Members of the press report from in front of the entrance of the Saudi Arabia Consulate on October 7, 2018 in Istanbul, Turkey. Fears are growing over the fate of missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi after Turkish officials said they believe he was murdered inside the Saudi consulate. Saudi consulate officials have said that missing writer and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi went missing after leaving the consulate, however the statement directly contradicts other sources including Turkish officials. Jamal Khashoggi a Saudi writer critical of the Kingdom and a contributor to the Washington Post was living in self-imposed exile in the U.S. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
Missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi's Turkish fiancee Hatice (L) and her friend wait in front of the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, on October 3, 2018. - Jamal Khashoggi, a veteran Saudi journalist who has been critical towards the Saudi government has gone missing after visiting the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, the Washington Post reported. (Photo by OZAN KOSE / AFP) (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - OCTOBER 07: Security cameras are seen at the entrance to the Saudi Arabia Consulate on October 7, 2018 in Istanbul, Turkey. Fears are growing over the fate of missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi after Turkish officials said they believe he was murdered inside the Saudi consulate. Saudi consulate officials have said that missing writer and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi went missing after leaving the consulate, however the statement directly contradicts other sources including Turkish officials. Jamal Khashoggi a Saudi writer critical of the Kingdom and a contributor to the Washington Post was living in self-imposed exile in the U.S. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - OCTOBER 05: People hold posters of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi during a protest organized by members of the Turkish-Arabic Media Association at the entrance to the Saudi Arabia Consulate on October 5, 2018 in Istanbul, Turkey. Saudi Consulate officials have said that missing writer and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi went missing after leaving the consulate, however the statement directly contradicts other sources including Turkish officials who believe that the writer is still inside and being held by Saudi officials. Jamal Khashoggi a Saudi writer critical of the Kingdom and a contributor to the Washington Post was living in self -imposed exile in the U.S. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - OCTOBER 07: A man passes through police barricades to enter the Saudi Arabia Consulate on October 7, 2018 in Istanbul, Turkey. Fears are growing over the fate of missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi after Turkish officials said they believe he was murdered inside the Saudi consulate. Saudi consulate officials have said that missing writer and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi went missing after leaving the consulate, however the statement directly contradicts other sources including Turkish officials. Jamal Khashoggi a Saudi writer critical of the Kingdom and a contributor to the Washington Post was living in self-imposed exile in the U.S. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
Saudi officials gather outside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 7, 2018. - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he is following the developments on the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi who has gone missing after visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, to complete routine paperwork. (Photo by Yasin AKGUL / AFP) (Photo credit should read YASIN AKGUL/AFP/Getty Images)
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - OCTOBER 07: Official cars are seen parked in front of the entrance of the Saudi Arabia Consulate on October 7, 2018 in Istanbul, Turkey. Fears are growing over the fate of missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi after Turkish officials said they believe he was murdered inside the Saudi consulate. Saudi consulate officials have said that missing writer and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi went missing after leaving the consulate, however the statement directly contradicts other sources including Turkish officials. Jamal Khashoggi a Saudi writer critical of the Kingdom and a contributor to the Washington Post was living in self-imposed exile in the U.S. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
Turkish journalist Turan Kislakci head of the Turkish-Arab Media Association talks to the media outside of the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul on October 7, 2018. - Jamal Khashoggi, a veteran Saudi journalist who has been critical towards the Saudi government has gone missing after visiting the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, the Washington Post reported. According to a Turkish unnamed government official the prominent Saudi journalist was murdered inside the Saudi mission in Istanbul after he went missing. (Photo by Yasin AKGUL / AFP) (Photo credit should read YASIN AKGUL/AFP/Getty Images)
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - OCTOBER 05: An entrance sign is seen at the front of the Saudi Arabia Consulate on October 5, 2018 in Istanbul, Turkey. Saudi Consulate officials have said that missing writer and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi went missing after leaving the consulate, however the statement directly contradicts other sources including Turkish officials who believe that the writer is still inside and being held by Saudi officials. Jamal Khashoggi a Saudi writer critical of the Kingdom and a contributor to the Washington Post was living in self -imposed exile in the U.S. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - OCTOBER 05: The Saudi Arabia national flag is seen above the Saudi Arabia Consulate on October 5, 2018 in Istanbul, Turkey. Saudi Consulate officials have said that missing writer and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi went missing after leaving the consulate, however the statement directly contradicts other sources including Turkish officials who believe that the writer is still inside and being held by Saudi officials. Jamal Khashoggi a Saudi writer critical of the Kingdom and a contributor to the Washington Post was living in self -imposed exile in the U.S. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - OCTOBER 05: Members of the media film and report outside the entrance to the Saudi Arabia Consulate on October 5, 2018 in Istanbul, Turkey. Saudi Consulate officials have said that missing writer and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi went missing after leaving the consulate, however the statement directly contradicts other sources including Turkish officials who believe that the writer is still inside and being held by Saudi officials. Jamal Khashoggi a Saudi writer critical of the Kingdom and a contributor to the Washington Post was living in self -imposed exile in the U.S. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - OCTOBER 05: People hold posters of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi during a protest organized by members of the Turkish-Arabic Media Association at the entrance to the Saudi Arabia Consulate on October 5, 2018 in Istanbul, Turkey. Saudi Consulate officials have said that missing writer and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi went missing after leaving the consulate, however the statement directly contradicts other sources including Turkish officials who believe that the writer is still inside and being held by Saudi officials. Jamal Khashoggi a Saudi writer critical of the Kingdom and a contributor to the Washington Post was living in self -imposed exile in the U.S. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
A general manager of Alarab TV, Jamal Khashoggi, looks on during a press conference in the Bahraini capital Manama, on December 15, 2014. The pan-Arab satellite news broadcaster owned by billionaire Saudi businessman Alwaleed bin Talal will go on air February 1, promising to 'break the mould' in a crowded field.AFP PHOTO/ MOHAMMED AL-SHAIKH (Photo credit should read MOHAMMED AL-SHAIKH/AFP/Getty Images)
A Saudi diplomatic vehicle leaves the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul on October 3, 2018. - Jamal Khashoggi, a veteran Saudi journalist who has been critical towards the Saudi government has gone missing after visiting the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, the Washington Post reported. (Photo by OZAN KOSE / AFP) (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
Missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi's Turkish fiancee Hatice (L) and her friends wait in front of the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, on October 3, 2018. - Jamal Khashoggi, a veteran Saudi journalist who has been critical towards the Saudi government has gone missing after visiting the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, the Washington Post reported. (Photo by OZAN KOSE / AFP) (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
An employee waists beside an entrance to Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul on October 4, 2018. - Jamal Khashoggi, a veteran Saudi journalist who has been critical towards the Saudi government has gone missing after visiting the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, the Washington Post reported. (Photo by OZAN KOSE / AFP) (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
An employee of the consulate checks a diplomatic vehicle in front of Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul on October 4, 2018. - Jamal Khashoggi, a veteran Saudi journalist who has been critical towards the Saudi government has gone missing after visiting the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, the Washington Post reported. (Photo by OZAN KOSE / AFP) (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
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Trump spoke Sunday with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is the son of Saudi King Salman.

"He says he is not involved nor is the king," Trump told USA Today in an interview aboard Air Force One Monday en route to a political rally in Texas. The newspaper said Trump declined to say whether he believed the crown prince's denials. If their involvement was proven, Trump said: "I would be very upset about it. We'll have to see."

Trump characterized Khashoggi's incident as a "plot gone awry" and told the newspaper he didn't think the writer was deliberately lured into the consulate to be killed.

When he was asked late last week whether he thought Saudi Arabia's claim that Khashoggi died in a fistfight was credible, the president answered: "I do. I do."

That statement rankled members of Congress and former government officials who have accused Riyadh of trying to cover up the truth behind Khashoggi's death or hide any evidence that the kingdom, particularly the crown prince, authorized it.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky, who has been trying to coax Trump into ending arms sales to Saudi Arabia, said Monday that it's "laughable" to believe the crown prince was not involved in Khashoggi's death.

Trump said any U.S. response should not involve scrapping billions of dollars in arms sales, which would hurt U.S. defense industries and eliminate U.S. jobs. "I don't want to lose all of that investment that's being made in our country," he said.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump will continue to demand answers. "He'll make a determination on what he wants to do once he feels like he has all of the information that he needs," she said.

Whatever the U.S. response, U.S. ties with its Gulf ally have hit rough waters. The Khashoggi affair also has threatened to upend the relationship of Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner with the crown prince.

The two men — both in their 30s, both trusted aides of older, familial leaders — struck a bond last spring and consulted with one another frequently in private calls in the months that followed. The crown prince, who is known in diplomatic circles as "MBS," has drawn some praise in the West for his moves to modernize the kingdom and criticism for his government's arrests of rivals and critics.

7 PHOTOS
Saudi crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman
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Saudi crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman
ARCHIVO - En esta fotografía de archivo del 12 de abril de 2018, el príncipe heredero saudí Mohammed bin Salman se prepara para irse tras una ceremonia con el jefe de gobierno español Mariano Rajoy en Madrid, España. (AP Foto/Paul White, archivo)
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shakes hands with the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday Oct. 16, 2018. Pompeo also met on Tuesday with Saudi King Salman over the disappearance and alleged slaying of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi, who vanished two weeks ago during a visit to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. (Leah Millis/Pool via AP)
FILE - In this Thursday, June 14, 2018 file photo, President Vladimir Putin, shakes hands with Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, right, during their meeting in Moscow, Russia. (Yuri Kadobnov/Pool via AP)
Spain's King Felipe, left, his wife Queen Letizia, right, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud stand to welcome guests before a lunch at the Royal Palace in Madrid, Thursday, April 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco, Pool)
This photo released Monday, April 9, 2018 on the official twitter page of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, shows Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, left, takes a selfie with French President Emmanuel Macron, center, and Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, right, in the King George V Hotel, in Paris, France. (The official twitter page of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri via AP)
A handout picture provided by the Saudi Royal Palace on September 30, 2018 shows the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah (R), welcoming Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammad bin Salman, at the Bayan Palace in Kuwait City. (Photo by Bandar AL-JALOUD / various sources / AFP) / XGTY (Photo credit should read BANDAR AL-JALOUD/AFP/Getty Images)
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - JUNE 14: Asian Football Confederation President Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim al Khalifa, Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman Al Saud, FIFA President Gianni Infantino, and Russia's President Vladimir Putin (L-R) during the opening ceremony prior to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Group A match between Russia and Saudi Arabia at Luzhniki Stadium on June 14, 2018 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Pool/Getty Images)
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Trump now plays down the relationship, saying the crown prince and Kushner are "just two young guys." But their back-channel relationship unnerved many in the Trump administration and Washington foreign policy establishment who feared that the White House was betting too big on the crown prince.

Kushner on Monday fended off criticism that the Trump administration was giving Saudi Arabia cover. He said administration officials have their "eyes wide open."

"We're getting facts in from multiple places and once those facts come in, the secretary of state will work with our national security team to help us determine what we want to believe, what we think is credible and what we think is not credible," Kushner told CNN.

Even Trump, however, admits that Kushner's work on trying to craft peace between Israel and the Palestinians has been set back by Khashoggi's death. "There are a lot of setbacks. This is a setback for that," Trump told The Washington Post in a weekend phone interview.

Bruce Riedel, a former Middle East specialist for the CIA and National Security Council, said the Trump administration "desperately wants the Istanbul affair to go away and the MBS-Jared bromance obscured."

An administration official who regularly deals with Kushner pushed back against claims that Kushner and the crown prince are joined at the hip. The official was not authorized to discuss the relationship and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

The official said the two had spoken since the crisis erupted and said Kushner's comment that he had told the crown prince to be "transparent" is an accurate reflection of the conversation, which took place before the Saudis' most recent explanation for Khashoggi's death.

The official said Kushner — like other members of the administration, including Trump — believes Saudi Arabia should suffer some sort of consequence, but said Kushner also believes the U.S.-Saudi relationship "shouldn't be blown up" because of the Khashoggi matter.

Gerald Feierstein, a former ambassador to Yemen and a top-ranking U.S. diplomat for Middle East policy for three years, said keeping the back channel between Kushner and the crown prince now might "prove to be unsustainable." Feierstein, now with the Middle East Institute, said he thinks that U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia should be in the hands of professional diplomats, not the president's adviser.

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Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire in New York and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

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