Skip to main content

Intel: Why Congress launched federal probe of Saudi crown prince

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a session of the Shura Council in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia November 19, 2018. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. - RC1BDA877AE0

Frustrated with President Donald Trump’s muted response to Saudi Arabia’s murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Congress has triggered a federal probe into Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s alleged involvement. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and top Democrat Bob Menendez, D-N.J., used a 2016 human rights law to launch the investigation on Tuesday after Trump released a lengthy statement ardently defending Saudi Arabia. 

Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures,” Menendez tweeted. “Now Pres. Trump must SPECIFICALLY determine if Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman himself is responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.”

The Global Magnitsky Act probe requires the Trump administration to officially report to Congress on intelligence agencies’ conclusions regarding bin Salman's alleged role in ordering Khashoggi’s killing. However, the administration can opt not to pursue sanctions even if it concludes the crown prince was involved.

Why it matters: The probe reflects a strong bipartisan backlash against Trump’s efforts to shield the prince from accountability despite reports that the CIA believes he ordered Khashoggi’s assassination. Trump’s statement directly challenged Congress and accused lawmakers of taking a hard line on Saudi Arabia “for political or other reasons.”

“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,” Corker tweeted in response.

Second probe: This will be the second time Congress has triggered a federal probe into the Khashoggi murder. Last month Corker and Menendez teamed up with a bipartisan group of 20 other senators to launch the first investigation. As a result, the Trump administration sanctioned 17 Saudi officials last week for their involvement in the murder. But Riyadh had already arrested all 17 men while denying bin Salman's involvement. 

What’s next? The Trump administration now has four months to complete the investigation and determine whether it should sanction the crown prince. In the meantime, a bipartisan group of six senators has introduced the Saudi Arabia Accountability and Yemen Act. The bill would sanction Saudi royals involved in the Khashoggi murder and end certain arms sales to Riyadh through 2020 while ensuring that the United States does not resume midair refueling support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

Next week, the Senate will once again vote on a resolution to fully end US support for the Yemen war. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who is favored to become House speaker when Democrats take control of the lower chamber in January, co-sponsored the same resolution on Tuesday.

Know more: Congressional correspondent Bryant Harris has the lowdown on what exactly the bipartisan Saudi Arabia Accountability and Yemen Act entails. And be sure to read his story about Democrat-led efforts to fully terminate US support for the Saudi coalition in Yemen.

-Bryant Harris 

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.

Already a Member? Sign in


The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.


What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial
What's included:
Our Expertise AI-driven

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

All premium Industry Newsletters - Monitor the Middle East's most important industries. Prioritize your target industries for weekly review:

  • Capital Markets & Private Equity
  • Venture Capital & Startups
  • Green Energy
  • Supply Chain
  • Sustainable Development
  • Leading Edge Technology
  • Oil & Gas
  • Real Estate & Construction
  • Banking

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to and we'll onboard your team.

Already a Member? Sign in

Start your PRO membership today.

Join the Middle East's top business and policy professionals to access exclusive PRO insights today.

Join Al-Monitor PRO Start with 1-week free trial