Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday said “there will be consequences” if missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi was indeed murdered, and that the U.S. will not “solely rely” on information provided by Saudi Arabia.
“If what has been alleged occurred, if an innocent person lost their life at the hands of violence, that’s to be condemned,” Pence told reporters on a tarmac in Colorado.
“If a journalist in particular lost their life at the hands of violence, that’s an affront to the free and independent press around the world,” he added. “And there will be consequences.”
Pence appeared to take a tougher stance on Khashoggi’s disappearance than either President Donald Trump or Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had up to that point. Both men had said in public comments this week that the Saudis denied killing the journalist.
But as he left to board Air Force One for an event in Montana, Trump said for the first time that Khashoggi appears to be dead.
“It certainly looks that way to me,” Trump said when asked by reporters, adding that the consequences for Khashoggi’s death will have to be “very severe.”
The White House did not immediately reply to CNBC’s request for an additional comment on Pence’s remarks.
Trump had pushed back on the growing chorus of criticism against Saudi Arabia, saying in an Associated Press interview Tuesday that he did not like how the process was playing out as a case of “you’re guilty until proven innocent.”
Khashoggi, who wrote columns for The Washington Post and had criticized Saudi Arabia’s royal family, has been missing since he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, on Oct. 2, reportedly to collect a document for his wedding. Turkish government officials told The New York Times that audio evidence proves Khashoggi was tortured, murdered and dismembered by a crew of government-backed Saudis.
Saudi officials told news outlets that Khashoggi left the consulate shortly after he arrived. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman assured Pompeo this week that his government is conducting a “thorough, transparent, and timely investigation that provides answers,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement Tuesday.
On Thursday, after briefing Trump on his overseas meetings with Saudi and Turkish officials this week, Pompeo said he advised the president to give Saudi Arabia “a few more days to complete” that investigation.
The U.S. wants to “allow the process to play out,” Pompeo added in his remarks. He also said the U.S. would look at the findings from Turkey’s investigation.
Pence said the U.S. “won’t solely rely on” the information provided by the Saudis. “We’ll collect all the evidence, and then the president will have a decision about what the proper course of action is for us going forward,” Pence said.
While cautioning that the U.S. will “wait for the facts and wait for all the information to come in,” Pence said that “the world needs to know what happened here, and those who are responsible need to be held to account.”