Trump defies Congress — to shield MBS from accountability on Jamal Khashoggi

 Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman speaks to Russian President Vladimir Putin during the talks in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in 2019.
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman speaks to Russian President Vladimir Putin during the talks in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in 2019. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)
August 21, 2020

THE TRUMP administration has repeatedly crossed legal boundaries in resisting accountability to Congress, most notably during last year’s impeachment investigation. A less noticed but equally clear-cut case is its stonewalling on behalf of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman following the 2018 murder of exiled journalist and Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi. The hit was carried out by a team of Saudi operatives, and the CIA concluded with “medium to high confidence” that it was ordered by the crown prince.

Ever since, a bipartisan congressional majority has sought to require the administration to hold Mohammed bin Salman and others involved in the crime accountable. Days after the murder, 22 senators invoked a provision of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act requiring the White House to make a determination of all those responsible for the extrajudicial killing and report to Congress on whether sanctions would be applied. The legal deadline for the administration’s response was Feb. 8, 2019. It was ignored.

That defiance prompted another bipartisan congressional alliance to attach an amendment to last year’s National Defense Authorization Act requiring — once again — an unclassified report identifying “any current or former official of the Government of Saudi Arabia” with “advance knowledge and role” in “the directing, ordering, or tampering of evidence” in the killing.

It would be impossible to prepare such a report without naming Mohammed bin Salman, to whom President Trump has catered ever since he was lavishly feted by the kingdom early in his administration. And so, the administration once again declined to comply with a clear legal requirement. Instead, weeks after the deadline expired, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence delivered a classified report to Congress, along with a letter contending that it could not supply the required unclassified report because it would compromise intelligence sources.

This, too, drew bipartisan resistance, including from the chairmen of the House and Senate intelligence committees, who dispatched letters to the DNI contending the report could and should be released in unclassified form. There was no response — once again demonstrating Mr. Trump is willing to violate U.S. law rather than publicly confirm that a tyrannical Saudi ruler was involved in the murder of a permanent U.S. resident.

The matter has since lapsed in Congress, but a civil society group has taken the matter to federal court. This week, the Open Society Justice Initiative filed a lawsuit in the Southern District of New York seeking the release of the Khashoggi report under the Freedom of Information Act. The group filed a FOIA request for the documents in July, but — no surprise — received no response by the legal deadline.

The lawsuit follows ongoing litigation by the Justice Initiative to obtain government records on the Khashoggi case. These would almost certainly show that Mr. Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have repeatedly lied in saying it is not known whether Mohammed bin Salman was involved in the murder. They would also lay the groundwork for a long-overdue change of U.S. policy toward the crown prince and his regime — perhaps just in time for a new administration.

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1 reply

  1. Reblogged this on The Most Revolutionary Act and commented:
    This week, the Open Society Justice Initiative filed a lawsuit in the Southern District of New York seeking the release of the Khashoggi report under the Freedom of Information Act. The group filed a FOIA request for the documents in July, but — no surprise — received no response by the legal deadline.

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