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Trump presses Saudis on fate of missing writer

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WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump on Wednesday demanded answers from Saudi Arabia about the fate of a missing Saudi writer as lawmakers pushed for sanctions and a top Republican said the man was likely killed after entering a Saudi Consulate in Turkey.

Trump said he didn't know what happened to Jamal Khashoggi and expressed hope that the 59-year-old writer was still alive, but senior members of Congress said they were starting to fear the worst.

In a letter to Trump, more than 20 Republican and Democratic senators triggered the 2016 Global Magnitsky Act, which gives the president 120 days to decide whether to impose sanctions on any foreign person he determines was involved in the disappearance.

While no suspects were named, and the lawmakers' letter to the president is only an initial step in taking punitive action, the Senate's move marked a departure from decades of close U.S.-Saudi relations that have only intensified under Trump. Riyadh has supported the administration's tough stance toward Iran, a key rival of Saudi Arabia in the Middle East.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has reviewed intelligence reports on the disappearance, said that "the likelihood is he was killed on the day he walked into the consulate" and that "there was Saudi involvement" in whatever happened with Khashoggi, who wrote columns for The Washington Post.

Khashoggi, a wealthy former Saudi government insider who had been living in the U.S. in self-imposed exile, had gone to the consulate Oct. 2 to get paperwork he needed to marry his Turkish fiancee, who waited outside.

Turkish authorities have said he was killed by members of an elite Saudi "assassination squad," an allegation the Saudi government has dismissed.

Trump said he had spoken with the Saudis about what he called a "bad situation," but he did not disclose details of his conversations. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said national security adviser John Bolton and presidential senior adviser Jared Kushner spoke on Tuesday to Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman about Khashoggi. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo then had a follow-up call to reiterate the U.S. request for information and a thorough, transparent investigation.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said that if Saudi Arabia had lured a U.S. resident into a consulate and killed him, "it's time for the United States to rethink our military, political and economic relationship with Saudi Arabia."

Turkish officials on Wednesday accused Saudi Arabia of not cooperating with an investigation into Khashoggi's disappearance, as video footage emerged and as a newspaper released the names of individuals from a 15-member Saudi team suspected of ties to the case.

Turkey has put in a request to enter the consulate. However, despite the crown prince's offer to Bloomberg News for the Turkish government to search the premises, Saudi Arabia is delaying and does not want an investigative team to enter, a Turkish official said.

Officials also hope to search the Saudi consul general's residence, 500 yards away from the consulate. Several vehicles, including a black Mercedes-Benz Vito van, headed from the consulate to the residence two hours after Khashoggi entered the diplomatic facility, according to a video obtained by The Washington Post on Wednesday, which purported to lay out the movements of the 15-man team.

The footage was compiled and edited by Turkish authorities piecing together a timeline of the events of Oct. 2, according to a person close to the investigation who provided it. It came as the Turkish newspaper Sabah published the identities of the 15 men.

Before Khashoggi's disappearance, U.S. intelligence officials intercepted communications of Saudi officials discussing a plan to capture him, according to two people familiar with the information.

Information for this article was contributed by Matthew Pennington, Alan Fram, Susannah George, Matthew Lee, Deb Riechmann and Padmananda Rama of The Associated Press; and by Loveday Morris, Souad Mekhennet, Karoun Demirjian and Shane Harris of The Washington Post.

A Section on 10/11/2018

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