The Washington Post, where Khashoggi worked as an opinion columnist, reported the CIA’s conclusion that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) personally ordered Khashoggi’s killing. The paper wrote that the CIA had “high confidence” in its finding despite weeks of Saudi official denial—denial that has been aided and abetted by President Trump.
Commenting on the address, Marwan Kaballan, director of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, told Al Jazeera that the king appeared to indirectly mention the Khashoggi case in his speech.
“He was trying to bring back the Saudi foreign policies to where it was traditionally; reiterating the traditional Saudi policy on Palestine. He talked about Yemen, saying that Saudi Arabia is seeking a political solution to the Yemen conflict… He talked about Syria and the Syrian refugees. He talked about his country’s role in maintaining stability in the oil market,” Kaballan said.
By Jon Allsop, CJR|AIWA! NO!|On Friday, the seemingly endless scandal over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi dissident writer killed in his country’s Istanbul consulate early last month, took another twist. The Washington Post, where Khashoggi worked as an opinion columnist, reported the CIA’s conclusion that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) personally ordered Khashoggi’s killing. The paper wrote that the CIA had “high confidence” in its finding despite weeks of Saudi official denial—denial that has been aided and abetted by President Trump.
The scoop renewed calls for Trump to take strong action against MBS and the broader Saudi regime. Two especially strong calls came from Republican senators yesterday. Rand Paul told CBS’s Margaret Brennan that the evidence of MBS’s involvement was “overwhelming” and pushed for a halt to US–Saudi arms deals. Meanwhile, Lindsey Graham told MSNBC’s Chuck Todd that it was “impossible for me to believe” that MBS didn’t sanction the murder. “He’s irrational. He’s unhinged,” Graham said. “I have no intention of working with him ever again.”
King Salman presents Saudi policies amid renewed calls from US Congress for condemnation over Khashoggi’s murder.
It nonetheless looks likely that the US government will continue to treat MBS with kid gloves. According to the Post, the CIA still sees him as a “good technocrat” likely to retain both his status as heir apparent and the outsize power he has brought to the role. Over the weekend, Trump himself doubled down on the same, awkward line he’s taken since Khashoggi’s killing came to light—mixing non-committal remarks about “taking a look at” at MBS’s role with broader praise for the US–Saudi relationship. He told reporters the kingdom remains “a truly spectacular ally in terms of jobs and economic development.” And in an extraordinary interview with Fox News’s Chris Wallace that aired last night, Trump admitted he hasn’t listened to an audio recording of Khashoggi’s murder that Turkish officials passed to the US. “It’s a suffering tape, it’s a terrible tape,” Trump said. “I’ve been fully briefed on it, there’s no reason for me to hear it.”
Despite promising that a “very full report” on the Khashoggi affair will wrap today or tomorrow, it’s hard to imagine Trump turning on MBS whatever new evidence it might contain. The crown prince’s dismal long-term record on free expression has never been a secret, and MBS’s denials that he ordered Khashoggi’s killing have always looked implausible given its heavy-handed, pre-planned extent.
In the court of global public opinion, however, MBS has been irreparably weakened. The enlightened reformer of so much old coverage is gone—erased by a heavily critical news cycle that, well into its second month, continues to link MBS to a gratuitously brutal crime, and furnish excellent, overdue reporting on other aspects of his power, particularly the deadly war he is prosecuting in Yemen.
Khashoggi’s murder is clearly no cause for triumphalism: an innocent man is dead, MBS has so far escaped hard consequences, and the arms sales fueling a humanitarian catastrophe look almost certain to continue. But sustained US media scrutiny of MBS and Saudi Arabia is, in its own small way, a victory. When I spoke with Khashoggi in March, he told me he supported some of MBS’s reform program, but that a franker conversation was needed, particularly around MBS’s crackdown on dissent. Tragically, it took Khashoggi’s murder for that wish to come true.
Below, more on the ongoing Khashoggi story:
- Willful ignorance: The New York Times’s Mark Landler spells outwhy Trump is sticking by MBS. The president’s remarks on Fox News yesterday, Landler writes, “were a vivid illustration of how deeply Mr. Trump has invested in the 33-year-old heir, who has become the fulcrum of the administration’s strategy in the Middle East—from Iran to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process—as well as a prolific shopper for American military weapons, even if most of those contracts have not paid off yet.”
- Sanctions, and fallout: Last week, the US did levy sanctions against 17 Saudis it said were implicated in Khashoggi’s murder, including senior officials close to MBS. On Friday, a key architect of those sanctions, White House official Kirsten Fontenrose, resigned. Fontenrose may have annoyed foreign policy officials by pushing for a tougher response to the killing, the Times reports.
- “A methodical, systematic investigation”: Writing for CJR earlier this month, Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, called on the United Nations to launch an independent inquiry into Khashoggi’s killing, warning that Turkey, which has its own dire record on press freedom, cannot be trusted to investigate alone.
- Solidarity act: Fox News’s Wallace pushed Trump hard on his anti-media attacks in the interview that aired yesterday, telling the president he is seen around the world as “a beacon for repression.” When Trump said he didn’t view Wallace as an “enemy of the people,” Wallace replied, “We’re all together… When you call CNN, The New York Times… we’re in solidarity.”