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Trump says U.S.-Saudi relations are "excellent," doesn't want to stop arms sales

U.S. denial in Saudi journalist disappearance
U.S. denies prior knowledge of alleged Saudi plan to detain Jamal Khashoggi 01:41

President Trump described the relationship between U.S. and Saudi Arabia as "excellent," despite the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who hasn't been seen since he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last week. The president also expressed hesitation towards halting arms sales to Saudi Arabia, saying he likes the $110 billion investment in the United States, and doesn't want it to go to China or Russia instead. 

Asked about the case of the missing journalist on "Fox and Friends," the president said, "Well, we're looking at it very, very seriously. I don't like it at all."

But pressed as to whether the U.S. relationship with the Saudis is in jeopardy — particularly after the Washington Post reported, according to U.S. intercepts, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman ordered an operation to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia and detain him — Mr. Trump skirted the question. The president and his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, have had a positive relationship with the crown prince, as one "Fox and Friends" host pointed out. 

Pressed as to whether that relationship is in jeopardy, Mr. Trump said, "I have to find out what happened."

Khashoggi went into Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 while his fiancée waited for him outside. In the words of Mr. Trump, "He went in and it doesn't look like he came out."

Later in the day, in an Oval Office meeting, the president expressed hesitation about the possibility of ending arms sales, even if Saudi Arabia is found to have any culpability in the journalist's death. 

"I don't like the concept of stopping an investment of $110 billion into the United States," the president said. "Because you know what they're going to do? They're going to take that money and spend it in Russia or China, or someplace else. So I think there are other ways. If it turns out to be as bad as it might be, there are certainly other ways of handling the situation."

Late Wednesday, a number of leading senators wrote to Mr. Trump to trigger a sanctions probe over Khashoggi's disappearance. 

Sen. Lindsay Graham said earlier this week there would be "hell to pay" if it turns out Saudi Arabia killed the columnist.  

The president touched on a slew of other topics in his more than 47-minute interview with "Fox and Friends." 

He declared that Rep. Devin Nunes, the controversial chairman of the House Intelligence Committee who has vigorously defended the president, should receive the "Medal of Honor." That award is the highest military honor reserved for those who display selfless acts of valor. Maybe, the president added it should be called the "Medal of Freedom."  

The president lauded other House Republicans who have defended him amid the Russia probe and put pressure in the Justice Department, including House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows of North Carolina and Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio. 

"I think they're becoming folk heroes," Mr. Trump said. 

The president's interview comes ahead of his meeting with rapper Kanye West at the White House Thursday. West is expected to talk with the president about prison and sentencing reform, after his wife, Kim Kardashian West, helped advocate for the president to commute the sentence of Alice Marie Johnson, a convicted former drug trafficker. 

"He's a very different kind of a guy, I say that in a positive way," Mr. Trump said of West. 

The president said that if his Attorney General Jeff Sessions were to object to sentencing reform, he'd be "overruled." 

The president did not comment on Sessions' future; he has long berated his attorney general publicly and even said he has no attorney general. But he did say he likes Sessions' chief of staff, Matt Whitaker, after the Post reported Wednesday night that Mr. Trump spoke with Whittaker about having him take Sessions' place.

"Well, I'd never talk about that, but I can tell you Matt Whitaker is a great guy," Mr. Trump said. 

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