By Josh Rogin
May 21 at 6:00 AM
More than six months after Saudi government agents brutally murdered Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi, the Trump administration has yet to publicly reveal what it knows about the crime and how it has handled the investigation. But a federal judge is pressing the U.S. government to release more information, and faster — or the court could force it to do so.
On April 19, the federal court for the Southern District of New York held its first hearing in the Open Society Justice Initiative’s case against seven government agencies under the Freedom of Information Act. The nongovernmental organization, funded by George Soros, is trying to compel the U.S. government — including the CIA, the Justice Department and the State Department — to produce all records related to the killing and the killers, including the CIA’s reported assessment that the murder was ordered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
“This case is about the public’s right to know about what happened to Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi and what the United States government is doing in order to hold the appropriate individuals accountable,” Amrit Singh, who directs the initiative’s project on national security and counterterrorism, said at the hearing, according to the transcript.
U.S. District Judge Paul A. Engelmayer called out the government’s delays in producing documents during the hearing and said the government is “not behaving.” The initial FOIA requests were in December, he noted, adding he regretted that court action was needed to get the government to fulfill its responsibilities.
“So I have to wake up the back table [of government agency lawyers] here by putting some deadline that’s going to scare the bejesus out of the seven agencies,” Engelmayer said.
These are the questions that haunt Jamal Khashoggi’s fiancee
Hatice Cengiz says she would like to say this to her fiance, Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul while she waited outside. (Kate Woodsome, Joyce Lee, Joshua Carroll, Joy Sharon Yi/The Washington Post)
The judge gave all the agencies until May 29 to complete their searches for documents and ordered both sides to negotiate in good faith to figure out which documents were relevant to produce and on what schedule. But he promised to impose even more oversight and accountability if the U.S. government agencies didn’t prioritize production of documents related to the Khashoggi murder and treat the FOIA case with extreme urgency.