WASHINGTON: Saudi authorities staged the "worst cover-up ever" in the killing of prominent journalist Jamal Khashoggi, President Donald Trump has said as the US announced its first punitive action in the case by revoking the visas of some of the senior Saudi officials involved.
Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post, disappeared after he entered the Saudi consulate in Turkey on October 2 to collect a document for his upcoming marriage to a Turkish woman.
The Saudi government initially said he left the consulate through the back door. Following a global outrage, Riyadh on Friday in a statement acknowledged that Khashoggi was killed in a fistfight inside the consulate after an interrogation went wrong.
Trump offered his most stinging indictment yet of a Saudi effort to silence a dissident journalist, calling the series of events that led to Khashoggi's death the worst cover-up ever.
"They (the Saudis) had a very bad original concept. It was carried out poorly. And the cover-up was one of the worst in the history of cover-ups. Very simple. Bad deal. Should have never been thought of. Somebody really messed up. And they had the worst cover-up ever," Trump told reporters in the Oval Office Tuesday.
Khashoggi's death has severely dented the international reputation of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Responding to a question on the probe into the death of Khashoggi, Trump said, "And where it should have stopped is at the deal standpoint, what they thought about it. Because whoever thought of that idea, I think, is in big trouble. And they should be in big trouble." Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the "savage murder" of the journalist was meticulously planned and demanded that all those linked to the killing face punishment.
He, however, acknowledged Turkey was still searching for answers to key questions, including who gave the order. Trump told reporters that Erdogan was pretty tough on Saudi Arabia.
He was pretty rough on Saudi Arabia, I would say. I haven't gotten a full recap, as you know. "I have people in Turkey and I have people in Saudi Arabia and other places, and they're all coming back as we speak, they're heading back," he said.
The Trump administration has sent CIA Director Gina Haspel to Turkey and she is expected to be back soon in the US with details of the ongoing probe.