Republican and Democrat Senate leaders triggered legislation late Tuesday that requires Donald Trump to find out whether Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sent a Global Magnitsky letter to the president hours after he issued a defense of the Saudi leader.
In a statement Tuesday — which opened with the words “American First” — Trump said he would not impose new sanctions on Riyadh, despite the “horrible crime” carried out by the regime.
Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident who wrote for the Washington Post, was tortured and murdered inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. A 15-man assassination squad was sent from Riyadh to carry out the assassination. Turkish officials obtained an audio recording of the killing final moments, but the Saudis maintain the death was a kidnapping gone wrong.
Critics have accused Trump of overlooking the murder so not to jeopardize lucrative arms deals struck with the Saudis. Trump responded Tuesday, arguing that “foolishly canceling these contracts” would only benefit Russia and China.
“It could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event. Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t,” Trump said, regarding the CIA report that concluded bin Salmon did give the order.
Under the Magnitsky law the White House now has 120 days to respond to the Senate.
This is the second time the chamber has sent Trump a Magnitsky letter in relation to the Khashoggi murder; U.S. senators first using the mechanism a week after the journalist’s death.
The administration has yet to respond to the first letter, but has until February to do so.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has also called for legislation to force the U.S. intelligence agencies to make public their assessment of the Khashoggi killing next week.
“Putting America first does not include subservience to the leaders of an authoritarian and murderous monarchy,” Wyden said in a statement. “Under Donald Trump’s reasoning, there is no atrocity Saudi Arabia can commit that will lead the U.S. to act independently, according to our own values and interests.”
Trump’s kowtowing to the Saudis following the brutal slaying has prompted strong reactions in the U.S. and abroad:
- Washington Post Publisher and CEO Fred Ryan: "[This is a] betrayal of long-established American values. [Trump] is correct in saying the world is a very dangerous place. His surrender to this state-ordered murder will only make it more so. An innocent man, brutally slain, deserves better, as does the cause of truth and justice and human rights."
- The often pro-Trump Wall Street Journal Editorial Board: “We are aware of no President, not even such ruthless pragmatists as Richard Nixon or Lyndon Johnson, who would have written a public statement like this without so much as a grace note about America’s abiding values and principles.”
- Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ken): “It’s a sign of weakness not to stand up to Saudi Arabia. Sometimes when you have two evils, maybe you don’t support either side.”
- Sen. Bob Corker: “I never thought I'd see the day a White House would moonlight as a public relations firm for the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.”
- Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu: “This is a humanitarian issue. It concerns a murder. It is not possible to say ‘our trade will increase, let’s cover this up, let’s ignore it.’”
- Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif: “[Trump] “bizarrely devotes the FIRST paragraph of his shameful statement on Saudi atrocities to accuse IRAN of every sort of malfeasance he can think of. Perhaps we’re also responsible for the California fires, because we didn’t help rake the forests — just like the Finns do?”
- Karen Attiah, Khashoggi’s editor at The Washington Post: “It is time for Congress to act and impose consequences for Saudi Arabia’s dangerous behavior, from Yemen to its bloody repression of peaceful critics. For if we do not, Khashoggi's death will be a blood stain on America’s moral conscience that neither time, nor Saudi hush money, will ever erase.”
Trump tweeted early Wednesday about oil prices. His post including the words, "Thank you to Saudi Arabia."
Cover image: President Donald Trump speaks to the news media while walking to board Marine One to depart for travel to Mar-a-Lago from the White House in Washington, U.S., November 20, 2018. (REUTERS/Leah Millis)