A bipartisan group of senators sent a letter to President Trump on Wednesday, triggering an investigation into the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and columnist for The Washington Post who has not been seen since he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last week.
Mr Trump said that he wanted to invite Khashoggi's fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, to the White House, in a step that is likely to be taken as a personal rebuke to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia's effective ruler, who was previously regarded as an ally of the Trump administration.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of SC has warned that if there was any truth to the allegations of wrongdoing by the Saudi government, it would be "devastating" to the U.S. -Saudi relationship.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders added that the USA would continue to inquire about the fate of the journalist.
But the 18 others also signed the letter to send Trump a strong bipartisan message of support for a serious United States response to Khashoggi's disappearance, Senate aides said. "It's a bad thing".
"And we want do get to the bottom of it", the USA president said.
When asked for video footage on Khashoggi, Saudi officials reportedly told Republican Sen. And we're in contact with her now, and we want to bring her to the White House.
The crown prince of Saudi Arabia ordered an operation to lure Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi back to the kingdom and detain him, according to a WaPo report citing USA intelligence intercepts of Saudi officials.
Saudi Arabia, which dismisses as baseless accusations that it killed or abducted Khashoggi, faces growing criticism from Western allies including London and Washington over the affair.
The administration has expressed concern but has refused to even to entertain questions about what the consequences would be if Turkish allegations turn out to be true - that the 59-year-old journalist was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul after entering it on October 2 to get routine paperwork for his marriage while his Turkish fiancé waited outside.
Cengiz has pleaded for President Donald Trump to help with the search for him amid fading hope that he remains alive.
The men departed Turkey the day Khashoggi disappeared, taking flights to Cairo and Dubai.
Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday on conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt's show that the United States would send Federal Bureau of Investigation agents to the consulate to investigate if the Saudis requested it. Now you will say that I encourage others to kill.
"I've never heard of an embassy in my life that doesn't tape", he said.
Turkish officials have concluded that Khashoggi's assassination was directed from top Saudi leaders because of the scale and complexity of the operation. "So I think we have to get to the bottom of it".
Jamal Khashoggi is featured on a poster during a protest organized by members of the Turkish-Arabic Media Association at the entrance to Saudi Arabia's consulate on October 8, 2018 in Istanbul, Turkey. He wrote columns for the Washington Post and the Guardian.
State-run broadcaster TRT aired video purportedly showing the Saudis arriving by private jet and then leaving a hotel.
Turkish media Wednesday showed what it said was a team of the 15 Saudis arriving at the Istanbul airport on the same day Khashoggi went missing.
"If this man was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, that would cross every line of normality in the worldwide community", Graham said.
This much is true: He entered the consulate, and there's no proof that he came out.
The Times adds that "media reports have cited Turkish investigators as saying they believe he was killed soon after entering the building and his corpse cut to pieces and disposed of by an elite Saudi security team".
One of the 15 Saudis identified by name and photo in the report by Sabah newspaper is reportedly a senior forensic expert. "Silence, denials and delays are not acceptable. We demand to know the truth", Ryan said in a statement.
Turkey said Tuesday it would search the Saudi Consulate.
Khashoggi, 59, who was once close to the Saudi royal family and has served as an adviser for senior Saudi officials, left the country past year to live in the United States in self-imposed exile, saying he feared retribution for his criticism of Saudi policy in the Yemen war and its crackdown on dissent.