CNN, the New York Times, CNBC, the Financial Times, and Virgin Group are just some of the companies that have pulled out of a major investment conference in Saudi Arabia this month, amid growing evidence that Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
But one person not backing out is U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who told CNBC Friday that he is still planning to attend the conference.
"I am planning on going at this point," Mnuchin said on Friday.
"We are concerned about what is the status of Mr. Khashoggi," the secretary said of the journalist who has been missing since he entered the Saudi consulate on October 2. "Although I haven’t had direct conversation with the Saudis, I know other people within the executive branch have, and those discussions are underway," Mnuchin added. If more information comes out and changes, we could look at that, but I am planning on going."
He advised other business leaders and companies to "wait and see what information comes out in the next week."
Mnunchin also described Saudi Arabia as "a very good partner for us in a lot of areas," adding that "one of the reasons I'm going over there is last year we started the terrorist financing targeting center with all the gulf countries and it's based in Saudi. We co-chair it with them," he said. "I've committed to go back over at least once a year and work with them on this."
"They've been a terrific partner in combatting terrorist financing with us," Mnunchin continued.
But Republican Sen. Todd Young of Alaska called on Mnunchin to reconsider on Twitter Friday:
Khashoggi, a U.S. resident, with ties to the Saudi royal family, but who sometimes criticized the government in his columns, went into the Saudi consulate in Turkey last week to obtain an official document before his wedding. He has not been seen since and Turkish officials have alleged that Khashoggi was murdered and dismembered by a Saudi hit-squad inside the consulate. Saudi officials deny the claims and say the journalist left the consulate shortly after he arrived.
But according to a Washington Post report Thursday night, "the Turkish government has told U.S. officials that it has audio and video recordings that prove Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi consulate earlier this month."
"The audio recording in particular provides some of the most persuasive and gruesome evidence that the Saudi team is responsible for Khashoggi’s death, the officials said," the Post reported. A source with knowledge of the recording told the publication: "You can hear how he was interrogated, tortured and then murdered."
U.S. media companies and members of Congress across the political aisle have called on the Donald Trump administration to investigate Khashoggi's disappearance and possible murder and implement sanctions against Saudi Arabia if the government is in fact responsible.
But the Trump administration has been wary of condemning the Saudis. It took President Trump six days to address the situation, and on Thursday he made clear that it would "not be acceptable" to end the arms sales with the country, regardless of the fate of Khashoggi.
"We're going to have to see what happens," Trump told reporters Thursday in the Oval Office. "But as to whether or not we should stop $110 billion from being spent in this country, knowing they have four or five alternatives — two very good alternatives, that would not be acceptable to me."
Today, we sent a letter to the administration triggering an investigation and Global Magnitsky sanctions determination regarding the disappearance of Saudi journalist and @washingtonpost columnist #JamalKhashoggi. pic.twitter.com/reqXtmqfJt
— Senator Bob Corker (@SenBobCorker) October 10, 2018
Trump visited Saudi Arabia last year and announced $110 billion in proposed arms sales, during his first international trip as president. With the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner's close ties to the crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Trump administration has only strengthened its relationship with Saudi Arabia and is relying on the country for support in the Middle East.
And even before entering the White House, "Trump had business relationships with the Saudi government and rich Saudi business executives dating at least the 1990s," according to the Washington Post.
In the newspaper's print edition on Friday, it included a full-page ad to "Demand Answers" about Khashoggi's disappearance.