President Donald Trump has vowed to seek “severe punishment” if officials from Saudi Arabia are found to have been involved in the disappearance of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Trump made the remarks in a sit-down interview with “60 Minutes” correspondent Lesley Stahl that was recorded Thursday at the White House. The President has been criticized for his failure to take a strong stand on the Khashoggi situation. The interview will air Sunday on the CBS newsmagazine.
Khashoggi was last seen Oct. 2 entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to handle paperwork needed for his planned marriage. Khashoggi’s Turkish fiancée called police when he did not emerge from the consulate after several hours.
Trump tells Stahl that the Saudi crown prince denied any connection to Khashoggi’s disappearance in a telephone call with senior White House adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner.
“They deny it. They deny it every way you can imagine. In the not too distant future I think we’ll know an answer,” Trump tells Stahl.
Pressed on the question of the U.S. response, Trump acknowledges that Khashoggi’s status as a journalist makes the prospect of state-sponsored violence of great concern to the U.S. Trump notes that he recognizes the significance of the Saudi regime’s alleged effort to silence journalists despite his own contentious relationship with many mainstream news outlets.
“There’s a lot at stake, there’s a lot at stake,” Trump tells Stahl. “And, maybe especially so because this man was a reporter. There’s something– you’ll be surprised to hear me say that, there’s something really terrible and disgusting about that if that was the case so we’re going to have to see. We’re going to get to the bottom of it and there will be severe punishment.”
At the same time, Trump also asserts that he doesn’t want to halt a planned sale of arms and military equipment to the Saudis because of the impact on U.S. manufacturers. Boeing, Lockheed, Raytheon, I don’t want to hurt jobs,” Trump said. “I don’t want to lose an order like that. And you know what, there are other ways of punishing, to use a word that’s a pretty harsh word, but it’s true.”
The interview marks Trump’s first appearance on “60 Minutes” since he sat with in November 2016 on the heels of his victory in the 2016 presidential election.