While President Donald Trump welcomed Saudi Arabia’s new statement confirming that journalist Jamal Khashoggi is indeed dead, blaming some kind of physical altercation in the kingdom’s consulate in Turkey, others in Washington and beyond expressed their stunned incredulity.
Saudi leaders had initially denied any part in the Washington Post columnist’s Oct. 2 disappearance. Intent on protecting the top tiers of the royal family, they had reportedly discussed blaming the incident on an interrogation accidentally gone wrong.
According to the kingdom’s official explanation, the dissident journalist was strangled in a fistfight involving 15 men sent to confront him.
Asked whether he thought the story was credible, Trump said, “I do.” He hailed the new information as a “good first step.”
Many others disagreed.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said the explanation was “preposterous” and called for U.S. action against the Saudis.
“America’s moral compass has come completely unmoored if we don’t take action,” Murphy said in a tweet.
Like many on Twitter, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) wondered why the crew of men sent to meet Khashoggi at the consulate would bring a bone saw with them. Turkish officials claim that Khashoggi was tortured, murdered and dismembered with a bone saw by a hit squad sent from Riyadh under government orders.
Similarly, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, wondered why anyone would start a fistfight with 15 people likely out to kill him.
Members of Trump’s own party didn’t buy the Saudi narrative, either.
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) complained that the explanation for Khashoggi’s disappearance “continues to change with each passing day, so we should not assume their latest holds water.” He called for an independent U.S. investigation.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) scoffed at the latest version of events.
“To say that I am skeptical of the new Saudi narrative about Mr. Khashoggi is an understatement,” he said over Twitter, where he questioned how this could happen without Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammad bin Salman’s knowledge.
The Washington Post’s global opinions editor, Karen Attiah, who worked with Khashoggi, called the Saudi statement “almost insulting.”
She, like many, wondered what happened to the journalist’s body.
Global leaders were dissatisfied with the kingdom’s version of events, too.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that the narrative amounted to an assault on democratic freedoms, demanding that the facts of the case be cleared up. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen both indicated they would support an independent investigation like the one proposed by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
Guterres called for a “prompt, thorough, transparent” probe into Khashoggi’s death.
The United Kingdom’s Foreign Office said it was considering its “next steps” and “those responsible must be held to account.”
The last person to see Khashoggi alive before he entered the Saudi consulate to obtain marriage documents ― his fiancee, Hatice Cengiz ― posted a brief note to Twitter about her would-be husband after the kingdom confirmed his death.
“God have mercy on you my love Jamal, and may you rest in Paradise,” Cengiz wrote.
Sara Boboltz contributed to this report.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article said Richard Blumenthal is a senator representing Oregon. He is a senator representing Connecticut.