President Donald Trump acknowledged Thursday that Jamal Khashoggi is likely dead, amid a rising firestorm over the journalist's disappearance.
"It certainly looks that way to me. It's very sad," the president said as he prepared to leave for a campaign rally in Montana. If Saudi Arabia is found responsible for Khashoggi's death, Trump will consider "very severe consequences" for the oil rich U.S. ally, he added.
The comments come as Trump faces mounting criticism from lawmakers for taking too soft a stance on the kingdom's conduct. Some members of Congress have called for sanctions on Saudi Arabia, which Trump has resisted as he questions the role of that country's regime in Khashoggi's disappearance.
Earlier Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Trump wanted to give Saudi Arabia "a few more days to complete" an investigation into what happened. At the time, he did not answer reporters' questions about whether Khashoggi died.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also said Thursday that he would not attend an international investing conference in Saudi Arabia. CNBC and other media outlets, as well as leading financial figures such as IMF Chief Christine Lagarde and J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, have dropped out of the event.
Khashoggi, who lived in Virginia and wrote for The Washington Post, has not been seen since he went to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. Turkish officials have accused Saudi agents of murdering and dismembering Khashoggi. Saudi Arabia initially denied killing the journalist. It now says it is investigating the circumstances of his disappearance.
Trump's response to the writer's disappearance has sparked comparisons to how he has spoken deferentially about other autocratic leaders accused of human rights abuses, such as Russia's Vladimir Putin and North Korea's Kim Jong Un. On Tuesday, the president told The Associated Press that he saw a case of "you're guilty until proven innocent."
Earlier Thursday, he suggested to The New York Times that he regretted that Khashoggi's disappearance garnered so much international attention.
"This one has caught the imagination of the world, unfortunately," he told the newspaper. "It's not a positive. Not a positive."
He called it "a little bit early" to come to conclusions about who ordered the journalist's killing, according to the Times. He said, "We're working with the intelligence from numerous countries."
Trump previously said Saudi Arabia was "very strong" in its denial of knowing what happened to Khashoggi. He told the Times that "they've been a very good ally and they've bought massive amounts of various things and investments in this country."
Speaking earlier Thursday, Pompeo also noted that the Trump administration wanted to "be mindful" of its "important strategic alliance" with Saudi Arabia.