By Lesley Wroughton
BUDAPEST (Reuters) – The United States is still probing the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday, as U.S. lawmakers continued to demand stronger U.S. action to punish the perpetrators.
“America is not covering up for a murder,” Pompeo said during a visit to Hungary, adding that the United States would take more action to hold accountable all those responsible for the U.S.-based journalist’s death inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October.
After initially denying his death, Saudi Arabia has confirmed that its agents killed Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and critic of the Saudi government. Riyadh denies its senior leaders were behind the killing.
U.S. lawmakers, Democrats and some of Trump’s fellow Republicans, have sought a strong response by Washington to Khashoggi’s murder and to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is fighting Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
The Trump administration had faced a Feb. 8 deadline to send a report to Congress on who was responsible for Khashoggi’s death and whether the U.S. government would impose sanctions on those behind the killing.
Ahead of the deadline, a group of Republican and Democratic senators on Thursday renewed their push to penalize Saudi Arabia, unveiling legislation to bar some arms sales and impose sanctions.
President Donald Trump has resisted such legislative efforts, viewing weapons sales as an important source of U.S. jobs and standing by Saudi crown prince and Trump’s ally, Mohammed bin Salman. Trump is also reluctant to disturb the strategic relationship with the kingdom, seen as an important regional counterbalance to Iran.
Eleven suspects have been indicted in Saudi Arabia for Khashoggi’s murder, and on Friday a top Saudi official rejected accusations that the crown prince ordered the killing.
On Friday, a State Department representative said Pompeo had briefed U.S. lawmakers on the murder investigation but gave no other details.
Democratic U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, on Sunday said the required report was not submitted and accused the Trump administration of complicity in covering up the killing.
“This amounts to the Trump administration aiding in the cover-up of a murder,” Kaine said in a statement. “America should never descend to this level of moral bankruptcy.”
(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; additional reporting by Joanna Plucinska, Susan Heavey and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Grant McCool)