Trump also said the fact that Khashoggi was a reporter made the case “really terrible and disgusting”.
The president spoke to CBS in an interview to be broadcast on 60 Minutes on Sunday, his first with network television since he spoke to the same show after his election in 2016. Trump usually favours Fox News, a politically friendly cable outlet.
Khashoggi has not been seen since 2 October, when he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Turkish investigators have said they believe he was killed by a “hit squad” and that recordings and video prove it.
Khashoggi, a US permanent resident, is a prominent critic of the Saudi government. Riyadh has denied involvement in his disappearance but international pressure over his disappearance has grown, with leading companies pulling out of an economic summit.
On Saturday Trump was due to meet Andrew Brunson, the American pastor released from jail in Turkey this week in a move some analysts have said shows Ankara is attempting to get Washington onside. After heralding the Oval Office meeting, Trump tweeted that there was “NO DEAL made with Turkey for the release and return” of Brunson, as he did not “make deals for hostages”.
The president did say the release would “lead to good, perhaps great, relations” with Turkey. But his administration, which has deep ties to the Saudi regime, has maintained a sceptical approach to the Khashoggi case. The president said this week the US would not forego lucrative arms deals with Riyadh.
The CBS interview took place at the White House on Thursday. According to a clip released on Saturday, Trump was asked if he believed Khashoggi was murdered by the Saudis and whether crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is close to his son-in-law Jared Kushner, gave the order to kill him.
“Nobody knows yet,” the president said, “but we’ll probably be able to find out. It’s being investigated, it’s being looked at very, very strongly, we would be very upset and angry if that were the case. As of this moment they deny it and they deny it vehemently. Could it be them? Yes.”
Trump said Kushner had spoken to the prince and said the Saudis “deny it in every way you can imagine”.
Asked if he would back sanctions against Riyadh as proposed by a bipartisan group of senators, Trump said: “It depends on what the sanctions [are]. Let me give you an example. They are ordering military equipment. Everybody in the world wanted that order. Russia wanted it, China wanted it, we wanted it. We got it and we got all of it, every bit of it.
“I tell you what I don’t want to do. Boeing, Lockheed, Raytheon, all these companies. I don’t want to hurt jobs. I don’t want to lose an order like that. And you know there are other ways of punishing, to use a word that’s a pretty harsh word, but it’s true.”
Asked to “tell everybody what’s at stake here”, Trump alluded to his own attacks on the press as the “enemy of the people”, which many critics have decried as dangerous and provocative.
He said: “Well there’s a lot at stake. There’s a lot at stake and maybe especially so because this man was a reporter.
“There’s something – you’ll be surprised to hear me say that – there’s something really terrible and disgusting about that if that were the case, so we’re going to have to see. We’re going to get to the bottom of it and there will be severe punishment.”