Donald Trump: Saudi should be presumed innocent over missing Jamal Khashoggi

US President Donald Trump walks to the mics to take questions as he departs the White House in Washington, DC, on October 2, 2018. Trump is travelling to Philadelphia to address the National Electrical Contractors Association Convention, and to Mississippi for a "Make America Great Again" rally. / AFP PHOTO / Jim WATSON

US President Donald Trump pushed back Tuesday at global condemnation of Saudi Arabia over the disappearance and suspected murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, saying the kingdom deserved to be presumed innocent.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Trump drew a parallel with the accusations of sexual assault that nearly brought down his Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

“Here we go again with, you know, you’re guilty until proven innocent,” he said. “I don’t like that. We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh and he was innocent all the way as far as I’m concerned.”

“I think we have to find out what happened first,” Trump said.

An insider turned critic of Saudi Arabia’s conservative monarchy, Khashoggi was last seen on October 2 when he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to sort out marriage paperwork.

His disappearance has strained relations with Washington amid strong pressure in Congress and the US media to prevent the issue from being swept under the carpet.

Trump sent Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Riyadh to talk directly with Saudi Arabia’s royals, and himself spoke earlier Tuesday with powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who assured him a “full” probe was underway.

Saudi Arabia is one of the closest US partners in a bid to undermine Iran and also a massive client of the US weapons industry.

At the prompting of Trump’s son in law and advisor Jared Kushner, his administration has made good relations with Mohammed — portrayed as a Saudi modernizer — a priority.

Trump earlier threatened “severe punishment” if it is proven that Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate. But he also mused aloud that “rogue” elements may have carried out the operation and has ruled out cutting sales of US weapons, of which Saudi Arabia is the largest foreign buyer.

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