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Intel: Biden’s pick for top intelligence official vows to report to Congress on Jamal Khashoggi murder

Avril Haines says the Biden administration will release to lawmakers an unclassified intelligence assessment on who was behind the murder of the Saudi dissident journalist.

President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee to be the United States’ next top intelligence official told Congress today that the incoming administration will provide lawmakers with an unclassified report on the murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

During her confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Avril Haines told lawmakers that the Biden administration would “absolutely … follow the law” and give lawmakers the intelligence community’s assessment on who was behind Khashoggi’s grisly murder in Istanbul in 2018. The Trump administration has refused to provide the legally mandated report on Khashoggi’s murder to Congress. The Central Intelligence Agency reportedly concluded that Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder.

Why it matters: Haines’ statement is the latest sign the Biden administration intends to take a different approach when it comes to congressional oversight and US relations with Riyadh.

Haines placed a strong emphasis on the need for US intelligence work to be of a nonpolitical nature in a move to reassure the historically bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee after four years of the Trump administration, which has been widely criticized for excusing the troubling activities of US allies, partners and adversaries.

Lawmakers from both parties pushed the Trump administration to declassify the report, to no avail. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, whose question elicited Haines’ response Tuesday, led the charge for putting a provision in the 2019 defense authorization bill requiring the report’s declassification, although legislators shied away from mandating sanctions on Saudi officials named in the report.

What’s next: If confirmed, Haines has vowed to focus on keeping the intelligence committee in the loop as the Biden administration focuses on major foreign policy challenges, primarily China but to a lesser extent Russia and Iran.

Know more: Sabena Siddiqui explains how Saudi leaders are reorienting their approach to the region in preparation for the incoming Biden administration, while Ben Caspit examines Israeli leaders’ apprehensions and plans for dealing with the new Biden team.

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