- President Donald Trump will not be honouring a request from a bipartisan group of senators to investigate and report on Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal killing, the White House signalled on Friday.
- Khashoggi, a reporter who wrote for The Washington Post, was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2.
- A bipartisan group of senators in October invoked the Global Magnitsky Act, giving Trump 120 days to investigate and report on Khashoggi’s killing. Friday marked the 120-day deadline.
- Critics say Trump is breaking the law by ignoring the request.
- Trump has been widely criticised for not offering a more forceful response to Khashoggi’s killing as he’s continued to support Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who’s suspected of ordering the hit on the journalist.
The White House on Friday signalled President Donald Trump will ignore a request from a bipartisan group of senators to investigate and report on the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal killing.
Senators on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in October invoked the Global Magnitsky Act of 2016 in response to Khashoggi’s killing, which gave the president 120 days to provide Congress with a report on his findings and how he plans to react.
The Global Magnitsky Act is an Obama-era law named for Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian accountant and whistleblower who died in a Russian prison after suffering serious abuse. The law expanded on previous legislation, the Magnitsky Act, which imposed sanctions on Russians accused of being involved in serious human-rights violations.
The updated law offers a path for the US to impose sanctions on people who’ve committed gross human-rights violations outside of Russia. It also includes a requirement for the president to respond within 120 days to requests from the heads of a number of congressional committees with a report on whether a “foreign person” has committed human-rights violations and if sanctions will be imposed.
The letter concerning Khashoggi, which was sent to Trump in October, was spearheaded by Sen. Bob Corker, who was the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman at the time, and Sen. Bob Menendez, the committee’s ranking member.
Friday marked the deadline for Trump to offer his findings and plan of action, but it appears he will not honour the request.
Today, we sent a letter to the administration triggering an investigation and Global Magnitsky sanctions determination regarding the disappearance of Saudi journalist and @washingtonpost columnist #JamalKhashoggi. pic.twitter.com/reqXtmqfJt
— Senator Bob Corker (@SenBobCorker) October 10, 2018
The White House’s seeming contention is that Trump has already sufficiently responded to Khashoggi’s killing with sanctions against Saudis accused of taking part in the killing. This appears to be the administration’s justification for the president not directly honouring the bipartisan Senate request. The White House also said Trump has the “discretion” to “decline” committee requests when “appropriate.”
A senior White House official on Friday told INSIDER, “The State Department updates Congress regularly on the status of actions related to the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. The United States was the first country to take significant measures, including visa actions and sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act, against those responsible for this heinous act.”
The official added, “Consistent with the previous administration’s position and the constitutional separation of powers, the president maintains his discretion to decline to act on congressional committee requests when appropriate. The US government will continue to consult with Congress and work to hold accountable those responsible for Jamal Khashoggi’s killing.”
Critics say Trump is ignoring legal obligations and breaking the law by refusing to offer a report.
Juan Pachon, a spokesman for Menendez, in response to the White House statement said, “The law is clear. It requires a determination and report in response to the letter we sent … The president has no discretion here. He’s either complying with the law or breaking it.”
Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2. The Saudi government’s narrative on what happened to Khashoggi shifted from outright denial to acknowledging he was killed in the consulate, with various twists and turns in its story along the way.
The US intelligence community has reportedly concluded Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, ordered his agents to kill Khashoggi. The kingdom has vehemently denied the crown prince’s involvement, despite ongoing reports suggesting he’s directly responsible.
Khashoggi, a Saudi national who wrote for The Washington Post, was often critical of the Saudi royal family in his columns.
The Trump administration has come under withering criticism, including from top Republicans in Congress, for not offering a more forceful response to Khashoggi’s killing. Trump has so far refused to place blame on the crown prince and has frequently touted US arms sales to the kingdom when questioned on the matter.
The White House’s signalling that Trump will not be reporting to Congress comes a day after The New York Times reported the crown prince told a top aide in 2017 that he would use “a bullet” on Khashoggi. The report was based on information from current and former American and foreign officials with direct knowledge of intelligence reports.