WASHINGTON — President Trump said on Monday that he spoke with the king of Saudi Arabia and that the ruler denied any knowledge of the disappearance of a Saudi dissident journalist. After the call, Mr. Trump said it was possible that “rogue killers” were behind the disappearance of the journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.
Mr. Trump’s comments, in a morning Twitter post and later in brief remarks to reporters, come as the Saudis have given Turkish authorities permission to search the Saudi consulate in Turkey, where local officials believe Mr. Khashoggi, was killed and dismembered earlier this month.
The president said the secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, was traveling to Saudi Arabia later Monday morning to meet with King Salman.
Mr. Trump said his conversation with King Salman lasted about 20 minutes, and the king “firmly denied any knowledge of it.”
“It sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers — who knows,” Mr. Trump said.
He said he told King Salman, “The world is watching. The world is talking, and this is very important to get to the bottom of.”
Mr. Trump previously said the episode would not have an impact on American relations with Saudi Arabia, one of the president’s closest allies in the Middle East. But he was already facing pressure from some in Congress to respond to the Saudis with some kind of economic sanctions.
In an interview with CBS on Sunday, Mr. Trump said that even as the Saudis deny involvement in Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance, it was still possible that they were responsible.
Mr. Trump said that because Mr. Khashoggi is a journalist, the case was even more serious.
“There’s something really terrible and disgusting about that, if that were the case,” Mr. Trump told CBS. “We’re going to get to the bottom of it, and there will be severe punishment.”
Mr. Khashoggi went to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 to obtain a document for his wedding and he has not been seen or heard from since.
The columnist is one of the best-known media personalities in the kingdom and has been a confidant to several previous kings and princes.
Mr. Khashoggi moved to Washington after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman began a kingdomwide anticorruption crackdown, including efforts to silence dissidents.
Friends of Mr. Khashoggi’s speculated that the columnist’s harsh words about the crown prince in columns he contributed to The Washington Post — including comparing Prince Mohammed to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia — landed him on the prince’s blacklist.