Mnuchin to decide by Thursday on Saudi visit
Posted October 17, 2018 3:07 p.m. EDT
(CNN) — Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he'll make a decision Thursday on whether to attend an investor conference in Saudi Arabia later this month, amid growing controversy over dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi's disappearance and apparent killing.
Mnuchin told reporters during a Treasury press event Wednesday alongside Mexico's finance minister that he plans to decide after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who visited Saudi Arabia earlier this week, briefs President Donald Trump.
"We're going to revisit the decision again tomorrow," Mnuchin said. "So for now we are. We're going to make a decision tomorrow based on Secretary Pompeo's report."
Mnuchin has said he would await further details this week on Khashoggi's case before making a final decision on his attendance. Trump said earlier this week that Mnuchin, whose stop in Riyadh is part of a multi-country trip, would decide by Friday.
Mnuchin's attendance at the Future Investment Initiative event has become a benchmark of the administration's response to the growing Saudi controversy as top bank executives and investors have dropped out.
Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, was the latest to drop out on Wednesday along with the heads of two major French banks: BNP Paribas and Societe Generale.
In recent days, Trump has come to the defense of Saudi Arabia, saying the country's crown prince "totally denied" knowledge about the suspected death of the Washington Post journalist and said answers into the matter would be coming "shortly."
The American president on Wednesday denied "giving cover" to the Saudi government, insisting that his aim is to get to the bottom of what happened to Khashoggi. He said he believes "by the end of the week" he will know what happened to Saudi journalist and where the fault lies.
On Tuesday, Pompeo met with King Salman, the King's son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir. He said following those meetings that "the Saudi leadership strongly denied any knowledge of what took place in their consulate in Istanbul."
"We had direct and candid conversations," said Pompeo. "I emphasized the importance of conducting a thorough, transparent, and timely investigation, and the Saudi leadership pledged to deliver precisely on that."
Trump began his campaign as Saudi Arabia began to float an explanation for Khashoggi's disappearance inside their consulate in Turkey.
Three sources familiar with the case told CNN that a high-ranking intelligence officer who has ties to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was responsible for organizing a mission to interrogate and possibly abduct Khashoggi.
Turkey claims to have evidence that Khashoggi was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, a claim the Saudis have strenuously denied.
Earlier in the day, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah said Mnuchin should still be able to attend the conference if he wants.
"Those are important meetings," Hatch told reporters. "They're important for our people to go to. So I don't have any problems."
In the past week, the conference, dubbed "Davos in the Desert" has lost a number of a high-profile guests as the international crisis over Khashoggi's disappearance has intensified.
International executives, including JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, along with the chief executives of top European banks HSBC, Credit Suisse and Standard Chartered and the head of the London Stock Exchange have all reneged on their commitment to participate at the event.
Trump had set a deadline of Friday for the secretary to make a final decision on his participation.
"We haven't made a decision about going yet," the president told reporters on Monday during a visit to Georgia.
In a "60 Minutes" interview on Sunday, Trump reiterated that he wants to get to the bottom of the Khashoggi case but doesn't want to endanger a multi-billion dollar arms deal inked during his visit to Saudi Arabia last year.
Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio on Sunday called for Mnuchin to cancel the Riyadh visit, one stop on a multi-country Middle East tour. "I don't think any of our government officials should be going and pretending it's business as usual until we know exactly what's happened here," Rubio said on CNN's "State of the Union."