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Trump denies ‘giving cover’ to Saudi Arabia as alleged hit squad comes into focus

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held emergency meetings with the leaders of Turkey and Saudi Arabia, as pressure grows for the Trump administration to respond in the case of the missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi. President Trump denied giving Saudi Arabia “cover,” but Pompeo said he’s waiting until Saudi Arabia completes its investigation before making a determination. Nick Schifrin reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi went missing on October 2. And the diplomatic crisis over his disappearance has deepened each day since.

    President Trump sent his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, to the Middle East to get some answers.

    Our foreign affairs correspondent, Nick Schifrin, has the latest.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    For the last day-and-a-half, America's top diplomat has held emergency meetings with the leaders of Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

    And as he left Riyadh this morning, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed confidence in Saudi's ability to conduct an investigation into itself.

  • Mike Pompeo:

    They want to have the opportunity to complete this investigation in a thorough way. And I think that's — I think that's — I think that's a reasonable thing to do, to give them that opportunity. And then we will all get to judge.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Judge an investigation into Jamal Khashoggi, The Washington Post columnist and critic of the kingdom. He hasn't been seen since he entered Saudi's Istanbul Consulate earlier this month.

    Turkish officials are maintaining their pressure on Saudi Arabia. For days, they have referenced audio of the killing in the consulate. And, today, a pro-government newspaper reported new details on the Saudi hit squad that Turks say left the scene after they tortured, murdered and dismembered Khashoggi.

    A Turkish official identified the Saudi government's head of forensic evidence as one of the men who — quote — "cut Khashoggi's body up on a table in the study while he was still alive."

    Turkey has now released images of 15 suspects. The New York Times reports at least nine work directly for Saudi security services and four have close ties to Saudi Arabia's de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

  • President Donald Trump:

    I'm not giving cover at all.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But, in the Oval Office, President Trump expressed confidence in Saudi Arabia.

    In an interview with the Associated Press last night, the president said King Salman and his son the crown prince both denied involvement. And in response to criticism he's letting Saudi off easy, he said — quote — "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."

    Mr. Trump made his first overseas visit to Saudi Arabia, and he's put the kingdom at the center of his regional policy to fight radicalism and of a new Countering Violent Extremism Center to push back against Iran's use proxies such as Hezbollah and help Israel gain Arab support for an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Saudi Arabia has been a very important ally of ours in the Middle East.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But while the president expressed his faith in Saudi Arabia, on Capitol Hill, there are increasing calls for an independent investigation into the alleged murder of Jamal Khashoggi, more than two weeks after he was last seen.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We will take a closer look at the impact the Khashoggi case could have on U.S. business dealings with Saudi Arabia later in the program.

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