WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence said Tuesday that the death of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi “will not go without an American response” and that the CIA director was in Turkey to review evidence in the case.
Pence declined to discuss what punitive action the U.S. might take in response to the death of the Washington Post columnist and critic of the Saudi kingdom, who died Oct. 2 at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Saudi Arabia has said he was killed in a fistfight at the consulate.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s claim earlier Tuesday, Pence said, that “this brutal murder was premediated — pre-planned days in advance — flies in the face of earlier assertions that have been made by the Saudi regime.”
“This brutal murder of a journalist, of an innocent man or a dissent will not go without an American response” Pence said, adding that there probably would be an international response as well.
Asked if the U.S. would sanction members of Saudi Arabia’s royal family if they were found to have been complicit, Pence said that’s a decision for President Donald Trump. He says the president will make a decision that reflects the values and national security interests of the nation and will also “make sure the world knows the truth.”
Pence, who spoke in Washington at an event hosted by The Washington Post, said whatever U.S. response the president decides to make will keep in mind the importance of U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia — an alliance that he noted has been in existence since shortly after World War II.
He declined to say whether he had seen any intelligence that linked the Saudi crown prince to the killing.
“I know that when the CIA director returns, she will be briefing the president, myself and our entire team on what the Turks have assembled,” Pence said about CIA Director Gina Haspel’s trip to Turkey.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who pulled out of attending an investment conference in Riyadh, met with Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman separately before the forum, according to Saudi state television.
Trump spoke Sunday with the crown prince, 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.”
Members of Congress and former government officials 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.
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.
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, acknowledges 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 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.
Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire in New York and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.