President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are forcefully denying an ABC News report that cites an anonymous Turkish official claiming Pompeo has listened to an audio recording or viewed a transcript of the recording of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi's alleged murder inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Trump Friday afternoon deemed the report "fake news" after ABC News kept a lede in a written online news story stating that Pompeo heard an "alleged audio recording" of the journalist's murder after more than half a day of strong and unequivocal denials by Pompeo, the State Department, and the Turkish foreign minister.
"Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was never given or shown a Transcript or Video of the Saudi Consulate event. FAKE NEWS!" Trump tweeted Friday afternoon.
Two hours earlier, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert took direct aim at the ABC News story in her own tweet.
"Still waiting for @abc to make this the lede: Reuters: ‘Turkey has not shared audio recordings with anyone, foreign minister says.' Again, @SecPompeo and I have gone on record 3 times saying that Sec State has not seen/heard alleged #JamalKhashoggi audio/transcript," Nauert tweeted.
A spokesman for ABC News did not immediately respond to a Washington Free Beacon inquiry about its decision to keep the lede and the headline that appears to place equal value on an anonymous Turkish official's claims and Pompeo's denial.
"Turkish source says Pompeo heard recording of Khashoggi murder, State Department denies," the headline read as of Friday afternoon
The original online ABC News story was posted 7 p.m. Thursday night with this headline: "Pompeo listened to an alleged recording of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi: Turkish Source."
The administration's fight with ABC News began Thursday night after ABC News foreign correspondent Ian Pannell reported that "Pompeo was played an audio recording of the writer's murder during meetings in Ankara 24 hours ago, according to a senior Turkish source."
Pannell said Pompeo was also given a transcript of the recording. ABC News decided to air the report despite a strongly worded State Department spokesperson denial, which they included when the network news report aired Thursday night.
"Secretary Pompeo has neither heard a tape, nor has he seen a transcript related to Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance," the State Department statement said.
Later Thursday night, during a question and answer session with reporters, Pompeo was asked whether he had heard a recording or seen a transcript of the alleged murder.
He categorically denied hearing an audio or viewing a transcript and forcefully pushed back on the story, arguing that ABC News should take down the headline "that says I have."
"I’ve seen no tape. I've seen no—or I've heard no tape. I've seen no transcript. And the network that reported that ought to pull down the headline that says I have," he stated.
Pompeo then went on to encourage the reporter who asked the question to ask ABC News why they are sticking with the story considering his strong denials. He argued that such "factually false" reporting could hurt Khashoggi's loved ones.
"You should actually ask [ABC News]. They're peers of yours. You should tell them that the secretary of state is on record saying this, and they shouldn't do that. This is wrong to do to the fiancé of Khashoggi. We should be factual with when we're reporting things about this. This is a very serious matter that we’re working diligently on," he said. "And to put out headlines that are factually false does no one any good."
The National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis also released a statement on the controversy Thursday evening.
"We have neither seen a transcript nor heard a recording related to the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi," he said.
Early Friday morning, Reuters posted a story, citing the Turkish foreign minister with the headline: "Turkey has not shared any audio recordings with anyone."
"Turkey has not shared any audio recordings with anyone, its foreign minister said on Friday, dismissing reports that Ankara had passed on audio evidence of the killing of a dissident Saudi journalist to the United States," the story said.
"Turkey has not given a voice recording to Pompeo or any other American official," Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu is quoted as saying.
The same Reuters story said Turkish authorities have an audio recording that indicates that Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, according to a Turkish official and a security source.
After his trip to Ankara, Pompeo on Thursday briefed Trump for several hours about the ongoing Saudi and Turkish investigations into Khashoggi's death. He said he urged Trump to give the Saudis "a few more days" to complete their investigations and underscored the "long strategic relationship" between the United States and Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi government has strongly denied direct government involvement in the journalist's alleged murder.