WASHINGTON - Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Friday that he still plans to attend a major investment conference in Saudi Arabia this month despite mounting evidence that Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
"We are concerned about what is the status of Mr. Khashoggi," Mnuchin said during an interview on CNBC. "Although I haven't had direct conversation with the Saudis, I know other people within the executive branch have, and those discussions are underway. I am planning on going at this point. If more information comes out and changes, we could look at that, but I am planning on going."
A growing number of media companies, including CNN, have announced they will no longer participate in the event scheduled to start Oct. 23 in Riyadh. Several business leaders, including Uber chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi, who announced his withdrawal on Friday, are also backing out.
Asked for advice to business executives, Mnuchin said: "My comment is we all want information, so let's wait and see what information comes out in the next week."
Mnuchin said Saudi Arabia has been "a very good partner" to the United States in several respects.
He called the nation "a terrific partner in combating terrorist financing." He said another major focus of his planned trip is visiting the Terrorist Financing Target Center that was set up in Riyadh with the cooperation of the United States and other Gulf nations.
The Post reported Thursday night that the Turkish government has told U.S. officials that it has audio and video recordings that prove Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi Consulate earlier this month.
The recordings show that a Saudi security team detained Khashoggi in the consulate after he walked in Oct. 2 to obtain an official document before his upcoming wedding, then killed him and dismembered his body, the officials said.
Saudi officials have denied any involvement in the disappearance of Khashoggi, saying he left the consulate shortly after entering.
Khashoggi has had long-standing ties to the Saudi royal family, but has written critically of the current government and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
President Donald Trump said Thursday that he wants to get to the bottom of what happened to Khashoggi, who was living in Virginia, but rejected calls to halt arms sales to the country in response.
"We don't like it, and we don't like it even a little bit," Trump said of Khashoggi's disappearance. "But as to whether or not we should stop $110 billion from being spent in this country, knowing they have four or five alternatives, two of them very good alternatives, that would not be acceptable to me."
On his first international trip as president, Trump visited Saudi Arabia and announced $110 billion in proposed arms sales. The figure has been challenged by outside analysts, including The Washington Post's Fact Checker, which called it "not real and unlikely to come to fruition - and even if it did, it represents sales far in the future."
Before entering the White House, Trump had business relationships with the Saudi government and rich Saudi business executives dating back to at least the 1990s.