President Trump is under increasing pressure to find out if Saudi Arabia really murdered or abducted dissident Washington-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi during an Oct. 2 visit to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, as Turkey says. A bipartisan group of 22 senators sent Trump a letter on Wednesday triggering a law that forces the administration to investigate Khashoggi's disappearance, leading to sanctions if Saudi Arabia is found responsible.
The White House insists Trump is taking the situation seriously. The Trump administration is "very engaged on this issue," State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said Wednesday. "Senior officials, diplomats are speaking to both the kingdom of Saudi Arabia as well as the government of Turkey, and we're using diplomatic channels." At the same time, Palladino tiptoed around the fact that the U.S. has no ambassador to either country, as Associated Press reporter Matt Lee pointed out:
Q: Who again — what's the name of the ambassador in Turkey right now?
PALLADINO: I don't have that in front of me right now and I – Matt —
Q: What's the name of the ambassador in Saudi Arabia right now?
PALLADINO: I see what you're getting at. Okay. We are confident in our diplomatic —
Q: The answer is that you don't have an ambassador in either place, right?
PALLADINO: We —
Q: And in fact, the charge in Riyadh has now been nominated to be the ambassador to Yemen. So just is it correct that you do not have ambassadors in place in either Ankara or Riyadh?
PALLADINO: But we have diplomatic staff, senior diplomatic officials —
Q: I'm sure you do. [State Department transcript]
Palladino went on to "reiterate our request for our colleagues in the Senate" to help the State Department "get its full team on the field," and Lee asked who Trump wanted the Senate to confirm to the vacant Saudi and Turkey ambassadorships. Palladino said he didn't "have that in front of me right now." "You're sure someone's been nominated for both positions?" Lee asked. Palladino said he'd have to check. According to the American Foreign Service Association, Trump has nominated nobody for either ambassadorship.