U.S. Official Posts Travel Picture in Saudi Arabia During Trip to Investigate Journalist's Possible Murder

A senior State Department official was criticized on social media for sharing travel photos while in Saudi Arabia during an investigation into the kingdom's potential involvement into the disappearance and alleged murder of a journalist.

Heather Nauert, a former Fox News anchor who serves as the under secretary for public diplomacy and public affairs, shared a picture on Instagram of herself Tuesday standing in front of the Royal Court building in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, bearing the caption "#SaudiArabia at The Royal Court." Nauert, along with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other diplomatic officials, were in the country in order to probe accusations that Saudi Arabia was involved in prominent columnist Jamal Khashoggi's sudden vanishing earlier this month.

Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen and U.S. resident who was frequently critical of the royal family, was last seen walking into Riyadh's consulate building in Istanbul on October 2. Turkish authorities have shared surveillance footage of him entering and local officials have claimed mounting evidence that Khashoggi was killed and dismembered inside.

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#SaudiArabia at The Royal Court

A post shared by Heather Nauert (@heathernauert) on

A number of Instagram users criticized Nauert's post, with some calling her "an awful person" and others telling her, "DO YOUR JOB."

"This is disgusting considering the reason you're there. It's not vacation time. Be a professional," one user said, while another commented: "Lol so tone deaf probably should have skipped the tourism portion of the trip."

Others simply wrote "Good shot!" and "Great picture, Heather."

Saudi Arabia has long been a close U.S. ally, but its human rights record at home and in Yemen—where the ultraconservative Sunni Muslim kingdom battles Zaidi Shiite Muslim rebels suspected of having links to Iran—has been widely criticized abroad.

Riyadh has denied any involvement in Khashoggi's disappearance. Following discussions with King Salman, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman—who is widely seen as the top powerbroker in the kingdom—and other Saudi officials, Pompeo told reporters Wednesday that he was told "they were going to conduct a thorough, complete, transparent investigation."

"They made a commitment, too, to hold anyone connected to any wrongdoing that may be found accountable for that, whether they are a senior officer or official. They promised accountability for each of those persons whom they determine as a result of their investigation has—deserves accountability," he added, claiming Saudi officials assured him there would be "no exceptions to who they would hold accountable."

When asked whether the Saudis knew if Khashoggi was alive or dead, Pompeo responded: "I don't want to talk about any of the facts. They didn't want to either, in that they want to have the opportunity to complete this investigation in a thorough way."

The optics of all of this has been quite shocking. But here is @statedeptspox Heather Nauert smiling outside the Saudi Royal Court on a trip her boss took to discuss the disappearance of Saudi journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi. https://t.co/vUGULUH0tc pic.twitter.com/vhKkydvX6g

— Erin Cunningham (@erinmcunningham) October 17, 2018

The U.S. diplomatic team then traveled to Turkey, where Nauert posted another travel photo, showing a cup of Turkish coffee in a largely empty, tiled room with Turkish flags and an airplane seen in the background through windows. Captioned "#Turkishcoffee in #Turkey," this picture received considerably more positive comments, many welcoming Nauert to the country.

As Pompeo met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, The New York Times cited a senior Turkish official who described an alleged audio recording of Khashoggi's encounter at the consulate. The tape, also reported by Turkish newspaper Yeni Safak, apparently details Khashoggi being tortured upon entry to the building, with a 15-man team beating him and cutting off his fingers before beheading him and dismembering him with the help of a forensic team.

President Donald Trump, who has suggested he would not cut military assistance to Saudi Arabia even if the kingdom was found culpable, told reporters at the White House on Wednesday that his administration has asked Turkey for the tape "if it exists," saying "it probably does, possibly does."