Trump told reporters Monday morning after a phone call with Saudi Arabia's King Salman, "I don't want to get into his mind, but it sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers. Who knows?" Trump added that the king was "very, very strong" in denying knowledge of Khashoggi's whereabouts. "We're gonna try getting to the bottom of it very soon," the president said.
The "rogue killers" remark was widely condemned as a dubious hypothesis as to the fate of the Saudi journalist, who was a US resident. Critics noted that Trump had failed to cite specific reasons to support his idea.
"Blaming ‘rogue killers' for brutal Khashoggi murder makes our president look like a Saudi apologist living in an alternative reality — once again disregarding facts & demeaning American values," Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) tweeted Monday.
"Been hearing the ridiculous ‘rogue killers' theory was where the Saudis would go with this," said Sen. Chris Murphy, a fellow Democrat for Connecticut, adding that it is "absolutely extraordinary they were able to enlist the President of the United States as their PR agent to float it."
It's not clear how the supposed rogue assailants would have been able to gain access to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, nor how they'd be able to smuggle a body out.
Khashoggi was last seen entering the consulate to complete paperwork on October 2. Since then, the Saudi writer has not reappeared. Unconfirmed reports have suggested Turkish officials have audio and perhaps video evidence of Khashoggi's murder and dismemberment.
Saudi officials agreed to allow a combined Turkish and Saudi investigative unit to convene Monday and examine the consulate where Khashoggi is rumored to have been slain, but that inspection may not furnish many quality leads: cleaners were photographed entering the building before the joint investigative team entered.
— Abdu عبدالرحمن (@abdu) October 15, 2018
Analyst Sibel Edmonds, former FBI whistleblower and publisher of Newsbud, on the other hand, said Monday that Trump's remark was "very plausible" based on Khashoggi's less-well-known history as not only a Saudi columnist at the Washington Post, but as someone who has been linked to intelligence agencies and the bin Laden family.
US officials said over the past week that Khashoggi's disappearance is yet another sour pill to swallow in Saudi-US relations. Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) wrote in a letter to the president published by AntiWar that Riyadh does not regard American values highly and works against US interests.
"We were reminded of that in 2016 when the House Intelligence Committee released the 28 pages of the Congressional Joint Inquiry into the 9/11 attacks upon the United States, which were classified by the Bush Administration. As you recall, the 28 pages implicated the Saudi royal family in financially supporting the 9/11 hijackers," Jones wrote.
"Despite this, the United States continues to treat Saudi Arabia as if it were one of our greatest allies. That is as stupid as it is sickening. Nearly 3,000 Americans were killed in the 9/11 attacks, and many are still suffering and dying from mental and physical wounds. I urge you to demand answers from the Saudi Arabian government regarding the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, to end American support of Saudi Arabian involvement in the Yemeni Civil War and to reevaluate our unholy alliance with the kingdom immediately."