The U.S. Senate took steps to trigger an investigation Wednesday into the disappearance of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Turkish officials have said the Saudi government murdered Khashoggi inside its consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. The Saudi government denies those allegations, but Khashoggi has not been seen or heard from since he walked into the embassy over a week ago to obtain documents he needed to marry his Turkish fiance, Hatice Cengiz — a wedding that was scheduled for Wednesday before Khashoggi disappeared.
In a letter to President Donald Trump, around two dozen senators, including all but one member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, asked the White House to investigate whether Khashoggi is “a victim of a gross violation of internationally recognized human rights.” Trump must report his findings, and his determination of whether anyone involved should face U.S. sanctions, back to Congress within 120 days under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.
“Our expectation is that in making your determination you will consider any relevant information, including with respect to the highest ranking officials in the Government of Saudi Arabia,” the letter read.
On Wednesday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said two senior officials, Jared Kushner and John Bolton, have spoke with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s de facto ruler and “asked for more details and for the Saudi government to be transparent in the investigation process.”
Turkish officials released new evidence on Wednesday, including video, that they said shows how a 15-person Saudi team killed Khashoggi within two hours of when he first entered the consulate, then drove to the consulate general’s residence.
“This is a bad situation,” Trump told reporters at the White House earlier Wednesday. “We can’t let this happen to reporters, to anybody.”
“We’re going to take a serious look at it,” the president added.
Khashoggi was reportedly working to start a new Arab pro-democracy organization when he disappeared. Reports of his murder inside the Saudi consulate have spurred an international outcry — The New York Times even pulled its sponsorship from an investment conference in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, in response.
Still, many have criticized the White House for seeming to drag its feet in responding to the crisis. Trump and bin Salman have enjoyed a warm relationship, and the crown prince’s relationship with Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, is even warmer. In March, The Intercept reported that Kushner passed the names of disloyal Saudi royals to bin Salman during a visit to Saudi Arabia last year. Bin Salman later bragged about having Kushner “in his pocket,” according to The Intercept.
Trump had harsh words for Saudi Arabia in a recent campaign rally, accusing it of taking advantage of U.S. security assurances. But he steered clear of directly criticizing bin Salman on Wednesday.
“I’ve always found him to be a fine man,” the president told reporters.