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Trump Criticizes Saudi King Censure    10/17 06:38

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Donald Trump criticized rapidly mounting global 
condemnation of Saudi Arabia over the mystery of missing journalist Jamal 
Khashoggi, warning of a rush to judgment and echoing the Saudis' request for 
patience.

   In an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday, Trump compared the 
case of Khashoggi, who Turkish officials have said was murdered in the Saudis' 
Istanbul consulate, to the allegations of sexual assault leveled against 
Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing.

   "I think we have to find out what happened first," Trump said. "Here we go 
again with, you know, you're guilty until proven innocent. I don't like that. 
We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh and he was innocent all the 
way as far as I'm concerned."

   Trump's remarks were his most robust defense yet of the Saudis, a U.S. ally 
he has made central to his Mideast agenda. They put the president at odds with 
other key allies and with some leaders in his Republican Party who have 
condemned the Saudi leadership for what they say is an obvious role in the 
case. Trump appeared willing to resist the pressure to follow suit, accepting 
Saudi denials and their pledge to investigate.

   The Oval Office interview came not long after Trump spoke Tuesday with Saudi 
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He spoke by phone a day earlier with King 
Salman, and he said both deny any knowledge of what happened to Khashoggi.

   After speaking with the king, Trump floated the idea that "rogue killers" 
may have been responsible for the disappearance. The president told the AP on 
Tuesday that that description was informed by his "feeling" from his 
conversation with Salman and that the king did not use the term.

   In Turkey earlier Tuesday, a high-level Turkish official told the AP that 
police investigators searching the Saudi Consulate had found evidence that 
Khashoggi was killed there.

   Also Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with the king and crown 
prince in Riyadh and said the Saudis had already started a "serious and 
credible investigation" and seemed to suggest it could lead to people within 
the kingdom. The secretary of state noted that the Saudi leaders, while denying 
knowledge of anything that occurred inside the consulate, had committed to 
accountability "including for Saudi Arabia's senior leaders or senior 
officials."

   Pompeo was heading next to Turkey, where officials have accused the Saudis 
of using a 15-member team to kill Khashoggi inside the consulate.

   Trump said he hoped the Saudis' own investigation of Khashoggi's 
disappearance would be concluded in "less than a week."

   In the meantime, there were signs at home that Trump's party was growing 
uncomfortable with his willingness to defend the Saudis.

   In an interview with Fox News, a prominent Trump ally in the Senate called 
on Saudi Arabia to reject the crown prince, known as MBS, who rose to power 
last year and has aggressively sought to soften the kingdom's image abroad and 
attract foreign investment.

   "This guy has got to go," said Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, 
turning to speak to the camera. "Saudi Arabia, if you're listening, there are a 
lot of good people you can choose, but MBS has tainted your country and tainted 
himself."

   Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen who was also a resident of the United States, has 
been a contributor to The Washington Post and a critic of Saudi leaders, 
especially Crown Prince Mohammed.

   International leaders and business executives are severing or rethinking 
ties to the Saudi government after Khashoggi's high-profile disappearance. 
Trump has resisted any action, pointing to huge U.S. weapons deals pending with 
Saudi Arabia and saying that sanctions could end up hurting the American 
economy.

   He said it was too early to say whether he endorsed other countries' 
actions. "I have to find out what happened," he said. But his complaint about 
"guilty until proven innocent" and comparison to the Kavanaugh situation 
suggested he was giving the Saudis more leeway than other allies.

   Khashoggi went to the consulate on Oct. 2 to get documents for his upcoming 
marriage to a Turkish woman while his fiancee waited outside. She and Turkish 
authorities say he never emerged and he has not been heard from since. 

   Khashoggi, 59, had been living in the U.S. for a year in self-imposed exile 
and writing columns for the opinion section of the Post. 

   Trump said Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin's trip to attend a Saudi 
investment conference is still on but could be canceled by Friday depending on 
what the investigation finds.

   "I think we'll also be guided by what other countries are doing," he said.


(KA)

 
 
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