Intel: Congress tries to force Trump to declassify report on Khashoggi murder

al-monitor Hatice Cengiz, slain Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi's fiancee, stands alongside US Senator Ron Wyden during a press conference calling for the administration to release details about his killing, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, March 3, 2020. Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images.
Bryant Harris

Bryant Harris

@brykharris_ALM

Topics covered

murder, donald trump, congress, us-saudi relations, jamal khashoggi, mohammed bin salman

Mar 3, 2020

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is crying foul over the Donald Trump administration’s refusal to publicly disclose a list of every Saudi official complicit in the 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. And one senator — Ron Wyden of Oregon — is about to turn to a little-used mechanism on the Intelligence Committee to force the US intelligence community to declassify the list, which could implicate Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

“The Trump administration’s silence on this has just been deafening, particularly because the administration is ignoring a law duly passed by the Congress and signed into law by the president of the United States,” Wyden told reporters standing beside Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancée.

Why it matters:  Trump signed a national defense bill into law in December that required the US intelligence community to submit an unclassified report to Congress listing every Saudi official involved in the Khashoggi murder. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) delivered the report list last week but classified the entire report. Although the law required the Trump administration to submit an unclassified list, ODNI argued that publicizing it would jeopardize “sources and methods.”

“The report is highly relevant to the debate that we need to be having in this country about our relationship with Saudi Arabia, and that is a debate that needs to take place with public input,” said Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., who oversaw the State Department’s human rights bureau under the Barack Obama administration. “You can name somebody, you can say you were responsible for this crime, without revealing the methods that they have used to determine that responsibility. So, that’s not an excuse, and they know it.”

A United Nations report found “credible evidence” that the crown prince was involved in the journalist’s murder. The CIA has reportedly reached a similar assessment

Bipartisan pushback:  Wyden also revealed that Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., and top Democrat Mark Warner, D-Va., sent a letter to Acting Director of Intelligence Richard Grenell on Monday urging him to declassify the list. House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., sent a similar letter to Grenell last week upon receiving the classified report.

What’s next:  The Senate has never gone all the way through with the mechanism Wyden intends to use to force declassification. The Oregon senator is nonetheless optimistic that he can flip enough Republicans on the Intelligence Committee to vote for declassification, which would open up a five-day window for Trump to personally object. If Trump objects, the full Senate would debate declassifying the report.

“The first thing I will do is talk to all the Republicans with their quotes in my hands about how the Saudis should be held accountable,” said Wyden.

Know more:  Congressional correspondent Bryant Harris will keep you up to speed with Capitol Hill’s efforts to hold the Saudis accountable. Read his report on Cengiz attending Trump’s State of the Union last month to keep the spotlight on her fiancé’s murder. And check out his inside story detailing how the White House intervened to remove Malinowski’s veto-proof Saudi sanctions language from last year’s defense bill.

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