President Donald Trump has denied "giving cover" to US' "important ally" Saudi Arabia in the suspected murder of Jamal Khashoggi and sought a full report from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in the dissident Saudi journalist's mysterious disappearance.
Khashoggi, 60, is feared to have been killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The incident has resulted in a global outrage, more so in the US where he lived as a legal permanent resident and worked for 'The Washington Post'.
Khashoggi vanished on October 2 after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Turkish authorities suspect he was abducted and murdered by the Saudis.
But Riyadh insists that the journalist, a known critic of Saudi King Salman, had left the building and that murder claims are "baseless".
Amidst mounting pressure in the US, Trump on Wednesday appeared to be resisting any move to take strong action against Saudi Arabia, arguing that it was a key ally of America.
Trump told reporters at the White House that he had asked for the audio that gives a clue of the alleged brutal killing of Khashoggi.
"We've asked for it, if it exists," he said.
The New York Times, citing the content of the audio made available through its Turkish sources, said the audio gave a detailed account of the alleged brutal murder of Khashoggi.
"I'm not sure yet that it exists. Probably does. Possibly does. I'll have a full report on that from Mike when he comes back," Trump said, referring to his meeting with Mike Pompeo on Thursday on his return from Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
"That's going to be the first question I ask him," he said.
On his way back from Saudi Arabia and Turkey, Pompeo refused to comment on the existence of the audio tape.
"Have you heard or asked to hear the alleged audio on the actual murder?" he was asked.
"I don't have anything to say about that," Pompeo said, insisting Khashoggi was missing and the Saudi government has launched a probe.
"They're going to do their investigation. I know you all are going to ask questions. I'm going to be very consistent: We're going to give them the space to complete their investigations of this incident, and when they issue their reports, we'll form our judgment about thoroughness, depth, and the decisions they make about accountability connected to that," Pompeo said.
Trump told reporters that he wanted to find out from Pompeo what had happened.
"He went to Turkey; he went all over. But he spent a lot of time with the Crown Prince, and he's going to have a full report. I'm not giving cover at all," he said, refuting allegations that he is being soft on the Saudi establishment.
"Saudi Arabia has been a very important ally of ours in the Middle East. We are stopping Iran. We're not trying to stop Iran. We went a big step when we took away that ridiculous deal that was made by the previous administration - the Iran deal - which was USD 150 billion and USD 1.8 billion in cash. What was that all about?" he asked.
"They (Saudis) are an ally. We have other very good allies in the Middle East. But if you look at Saudi Arabia, they're an ally and they're a tremendous purchaser of not only military equipment, but other things," he said.
"When I went there, they committed to purchase USD 450 billion worth of things, and USD 110 billion worth of military (equipment). Those are the biggest orders in the history of this country - probably the history of the world. I don't think there's ever been any order for USD 450 billion," Trump said.
However, lawmakers continued to call for action against the Saudi establishment.
Indian-American Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi said as additional questions and reports accumulate around the disappearance and reported torture and assassination of Khashoggi, so too does the list of misstatements, falsehoods, and denials from the Saudi Arabian government.
"These responses intended to answer international criticism of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman's regime have included everything from categorical denials to claims that operatives of the Saudi government may have inadvertently murdered Khashoggi while attempting to detain, interrogate, and torture him in violation of international law," he said.
"Yet despite so much evidence to the contrary, President Trump appears ready to believe the Saudi Arabian government's denials. While President Trump may accept Saudi Arabia's denials about the disappearance and death of Khashoggi at face value, the American people won't," Krishnamoorthi said.
Senator Patrick Leahy said the credible, detailed reports from the Turkish government and the international press that Khashoggi was tortured and murdered after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 had shocked the world.
"While we do not yet have definitive proof, neither is there any other plausible explanation," he said.
Meanwhile, 11 Democratic Senators wrote to Trump seeking a full accounting of any financial ties between the Trump Organization and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
This comes days after a bipartisan group of 22 senators recently triggered a probe and a Global Magnitsky Act determination relating to the circumstances surrounding Khashoggi's disappearance and possible murder.
"It is imperative that this sanctions determination, and US policy towards Saudi Arabia generally, are not influenced by any conflicts of interest that may exist because of your or your family's deep financial ties to Saudi Arabia," the Democratic senators wrote.