On Tuesday, a trio of Democratic senators introduced a bill to try to force the Trump administration to reveal what it knows about the people responsible for the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
The bill, introduced by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), and Jack Reed (D-RI), calls on the director of national intelligence to submit a report to Congress on Khashoggi’s death. The report would be due within 30 days of the bill’s passage, and would identify “those who carried out, participated in, ordered, or were otherwise complicit in or responsible for the death” of Khashoggi.
Khashoggi was brutally murdered in Istanbul, Turkey, where he was ambushed in a Saudi embassy and then dismembered. Despite the gruesome details of the killing — and the presumed culpability reaching up into the upper echelons of Saudi government — the Trump administration has continued to avoid blaming Riyadh outright. President Donald Trump himself even said last week that the U.S. “may never know” who was responsible for the murder of Khashoggi, who had been living in the U.S. and was critical of the Saudi regime.
“Trump claims that ‘we may never know’ who is responsible for ordering the murder of Jamal Khashoggi,” Wyden said in a statement. “I disagree.”
The Trump administration is refusing to tell the American people what it knows about Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
— Ron Wyden (@RonWyden) November 27, 2018
The measure is the latest salvo in congressional attempts to gain insight into what the administration knows about Khashoggi’s death, and whether the White House has been downplaying the involvement of Saudi leader Mohammed bin Salman in order to protect U.S.-Saudi relations.
“This bill is a step in the right direction,” Courtney Radsch, director of advocacy with the Committee to Protect Journalists, told ThinkProgress. “Mandating an investigation by the director of national intelligence would be an important step toward securing justice for Khashoggi and his family.”
The White House’s response to the killing has waffled between mealy-mouthed answers and outright denial. Just this week, the administration floated its latest and perhaps strangest line of defense as to why Washington hasn’t put more pressure on Riyadh: when National Security Adviser John Bolton was asked if he had listened to the tape of Khashoggi’s death, Bolton responded that he hadn’t because he doesn’t speak Arabic. “Unless you speak Arabic, what are you going to get from it?” Bolton asked.
In a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo published Wednesday, he describes the U.S.-Saudi relationship as “vital,” regardless of Khashoggi’s murder, which he claims only “heightened the Capitol Hill caterwauling and media pile-on” against Saudi Arabia.
This week’s responses from Trump’s cabinet fit a pattern established over the past two years — namely, of whitewashing the Saudi government’s swelling despotism, including actions that range from rampant torture to state-led disappearances.
As ThinkProgress’ Frank Dale wrote this week:
[Trump] — whose business dealings with Saudi Arabia are well–documented — has cited dubious weapons deals to justify not punishing the Saudis, compared criticism of Saudi Arabia to the sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, thanked the oil-rich country for lower gas prices, called the Saudis a “spectacular ally,” referred to Khashoggi as an “enemy of the state,” and cast doubt on the U.S. intelligence’s community’s assessment that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was involved in the execution of a political rival.
But pressure has only continued to build in Congress against the White House’s stance on America’s relationship with the Saudi government. Bipartisan momentum has recently begun building to end U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s devastating bombing campaign in Yemen. On Wednesday, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to advance a resolution to end support for the Saudi bombing campaign.
At a closed-door meeting on Wednesday, CNN reported that senators “from both parties made clear prior to the briefing that they intended to ask for details on the Khashoggi murder.” While Trump administration officials continued to deny the existence of a “smoking gun” linking Khashoggi’s death to bin Salman, the CIA has reportedly assessed with “high confidence” that bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s death.
A Wyden aide told ThinkProgress that they have not received a response from the administration about the bill; a spokesperson for Heinrich told ThinkProgress the same.
But the bill will likely add pressure to the White House to reveal what it knows. Since it was introduced, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) has already joined as an additional co-sponsor, pointing to the continued desire — at least among Democrats in the Senate — to uncover the identities of those responsible for Khashoggi’s murder.
“The American people deserve nothing less than the truth and transparency about any role the Saudi government played in this shameful act,” Heinrich said in a statement. “That starts with ensuring the public hears directly from the intelligence community identifying who carried out or ordered Mr. Khashoggi’s death.”