Donald Trump Wants to Keep Arms Deal With Saudi Arabia, Blames Media for 'Hurting' Contract With Kingdom

Hours after Saudi Arabia announced the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, President Donald Trump joked with the heads of defense companies that members of the media are "hurting him" over his preference to keep the arms sale order to the Saudi Kingdom intact.

The president traveled to Luke Air Force base in Phoenix, Arizona on Friday afternoon to participate in a roundtable discussion. Among the military leaders and regional officials were the CEOs of some of the world's largest defense industry companies.

Before this gathering, Trump had finished fundraising for Republican Congresswoman Martha McSally in Scottsdale. McSally, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and more moderate Republican is running for Senate against Democratic Representative Kyrsten Sinema, a centrist that generally avoids controversial political positions and discussions of Trump.

"We make the greatest military [corporation] in the world, not even a contest, there's nothing close and every other country knows it," Trump told the roundtable. "We're talking about something right now, a particular country ordered, you'll never guess who this is, about $110 billion dollars worth of equipment and I assume you would like to keep those orders probably," Trump said referring to Saudi Arabia and turning to Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg, who agreed in the affirmative.

"But if you don't Boeing, Dennis, you can let me know, make things a lot easier," Trump said.

Later, Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told Trump: "You have made us stronger, under your leadership, we are stronger and with Congress's support we have a budget that makes us stronger," adding that "your advocacy on foreign military sales is huge."

"It's hurting me right now," Trump responded pointing to members of the press. "It's hurting me with these people."

President Donald Trump conducts a meeting of his cabinet at the White House earlier this week in Washington, D.C. Trump participated in a defense roundtable at Luke Air Force base in Phoenix, Arizona on October 19. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The comments come on the heels of Saudi Arabia's confirmation that Khashoggi, 59, a dissident Saudi journalist and celebrated columnist for The Washington Post, was dead.

Khashoggi disappeared in Istanbul more than two weeks ago after entering the Saudi Consulate on the afternoon of October 2, for an appointment to pick up a document to certify his divorce so he could marry his fiancée the next day in Turkey.

During that time, Turkish officials have maintained that Khashoggi was killed and dismembered by 15 Saudi agents who had flown in to meet him. The whereabouts of Khashoggi's body is unknown.

A statement released through state-run media early Saturday said 18 Saudis had been arrested and are under investigation. The men were not identified.

The Kingdom's public prosecutor said that the investigation found that an argument had occurred between Khashoggi and the Saudis while inside the consulate, leading to "a fistfight that led to his death."

In response, the White House released a statement late Friday evening acknowledging the announcement from Saudi Arabia, and added that it would continue to follow the investigation and advocate for justice. The report ended with condolences to Khashoggi's family and friends.

Trump said that Saudi Arabia's announcement was a "big first step" and that he would like to work with Congress on whether sanctions were appropriate if the Saudi government is found to have been responsible for Khashoggi's death.

"Saudi Arabia has been a great ally, but what has happened is unacceptable," Trump said. "But I would prefer that we don't use as retribution canceling a $110 billion dollar worth of work, which means 600,000 jobs."

The Washington Post's fact-checker concluded that the $110 billion figure was "an example of a politician believing his own propaganda," after determining that the total amount of foreign military sales to the Saudis was roughly $106 billion short of the number touted by the president, according to announcements on the Defense Security Cooperation Agency.

After the meeting, Trump left for a rally for McSally where he discussed protecting national security by voting against Democrats.