In the latest conflicting report over WaPo columnist Jamal Khashoggi's demise, ABC reports that according to a Turkish official, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo heard an alleged audio recording of Khashoggi's murder inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Contradicting the official White House narrative, the anonymous official said that the recording was played in meetings in Turkey on Wednesday, and that Pompeo was given a transcript of the recordings.
However in refutation of the ABC report, the State Department denied Pompeo had heard the recording, although it did not address whether he had been given a transcript. "The secretary addressed this yesterday. He has not heard a tape," spokeswoman Heather Nauert told ABC News in an email. During his flight back from Istanbul, Pompeo was asked if he had heard the audio, to which he had a non-committal response: "I don’t have anything to say about that," he said.
Separately, ABC News has also learned that Turkish officials believe that Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi consulate following a struggle that lasted eight minutes and that they believe he died of strangulation.
On Thursday morning, Pompeo met with president Trump to brief him on his visits to Turkey and Saudi Arabia, where he met with Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman. While Trump had previously asked to hear the recording, it was unknown if Pompeo shared the transcript with the president, but soon after the meeting the president "changed his tune", and while earlier in the week Trump questioned whether the audio recording existed and cautioned against blaming Saudi Arabia for Khashoggi’s disappearance, on Thursday afternoon his administration abruptly canceled a visit to Saudi Arabia by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to attend a large investment conference hosted by the Crown Prince, whom Turkish officials have reportedly claimed was behind Khashoggi's killing. Later on Thursday, Trump told reporters that "it certainly looks like" Khashoggi was dead.
"It certainly looks that way to me, it's very sad," Trump told reporters before boarding Air Force One to attend a political rally in Montana.
The president also repeated what he said over the weekend, threatening that the consequences for Saudi Arabia, if they are found responsible "will have to be very severe. It's bad, bad stuff."
For now, Trump said the United States is waiting for the results of several investigations but will then make a "very strong statement." After his meeting with Trump, Pompeo told a press conference that the Saudis should have "a few more days" to finish their investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance. Careful not to push too far, Pompeo also stressed the "long strategic relationship" that the U.S. has with Saudi Arabia, and described the country as an "important counter-terrorism supporter."
For much of the past week, Turkish officials claimed that Khashoggi was killed in the consulate, and that a group of 15 Saudi men flew to Istanbul around the time of Khashoggi’s disappearance.
A close friend of Khashoggi, Turan Kislakci, told ABC News in an interview on Wednesday that Turkish government and security officials had told him that Khashoggi was dead.
"They said, 'We have audio on this. We know all the details about what transpired,'" said Kislakci. "They said, 'We were able to access this the first day, and we have various other evidence on this.'"
Kislakci claimed that the tapes reveal that after Khashoggi went into the Saudi embassy, he was given documents to sign. Khashoggi refused, and was killed.