And the hits just keep on comin’ from the Jamal Khashoggi story which, much to the chagrin of Riyadh (and unlike Khashoggi himself), just refuses to die.
On Thursday, a bipartisan group of Senators introduced legislation to punish the Saudis for Khashoggi’s grisly murder.
The bill, sponsored by Bob Menendez, Jack Reed, Jeanne Shaheen and Chris Murphy (on the Democrat side) and Todd Young, Lindsey Graham and Susan Collins (from the GOP) comes just a day ahead of the February 8 deadline for Trump to submit a report to Congress establishing, once and for all, whether Prince Mohammed was in fact personally responsible for Khashoggi’s death.
We all know Trump isn’t going to hold the Crown Prince to account, but he is compelled to respond to the invocation of the Magnitsky Act. The process, you may remember, was set in motion back in October by Menendez and Bob Corker.
Trump let a similar deadline expire with regard to sanctions on Russia in connection with the Skripal poisoning, but was ultimately forced to relent.
Again, it’s clear that the White House isn’t going to do anything to infuriate the Saudis. Trump publicly rebuked the assessment of the CIA (which determined that Prince Mohammed likely gave the order) and has variously cited lucrative weapons deals as an excuse. The US did of course sanction 17 Saudis in the killing, but that was clearly coordinated with the Kingdom’s own farcical investigation.
One silver lining from Khashoggi’s untimely demise was that it focused the world’s attention on the war in Yemen, where the Saudis are not only perpetuating a humanitarian crisis with US-made arms, but are in fact using those weapons as a kind of currency. According to a bombshell CNN report, the Saudis and the UAE have given US military technology to Salafi hardliners in Yemen, including groups explicitly linked to AQAP.
The legislation introduced on Thursday would limit arms sales to the Saudis in retaliation both for the Khashoggi murder and for Riyadh’s role in turning Yemen into a nightmarish hellscape.
With that as the backdrop, The New York Times is out with a new piece that details intelligence intercepts of Prince Mohammed’s “voice and text communications”, one of which found him telling Turki Aldakhil (an aide) that he would try to lure Khashoggi back to the Kingdom. If that didn’t work, the young autocrat suggested he would “force” Khashoggi to return, at which point he (Prince Mohammed) would “use a bullet” on the dissident journalist.
This is just the latest bit of evidence that clearly implicates the Crown Prince. Back in November, the Times detailed a phone conversation between Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb (one of the 15 Saudis who arrived in Turkey on October 2 aboard two Gulfstream IV jets and a travel buddy of the Crown Prince’s who has been photographed traveling with bin Salman on any number of occasions, including on trips to France, Spain, Houston and Boston) and a royal aide. In the call, Mutreb reportedly said this:
Tell your boss the deed was done.
“The deed” involved Salah Muhammad al-Tubaigy chopping up Khashoggi with a bone saw after he was asphyxiated, which means that had Prince Mohammed made good on his 2017 threat to “use a bullet”, Khashoggi would have met a much less painful end.
Amusingly, though, it turns out that Prince Mohammed didn’t actually mean the “bullet” thing literally. Here’s the Times:
American intelligence analysts concluded that Prince Mohammed might not have meant the phrase literally — in other words, he did not necessarily mean to have Mr. Khashoggi shot — but more likely he used the phrase as a metaphor to emphasize that he had every intention of killing the journalist if he did not return to Saudi Arabia.
The article goes on to note that the conversation in question came just after the Crown Prince leapfrogged his cousin Muhammad bin Nayef as heir to the throne and just months before the infamous Ritz Carlton “corruption” crackdown which came to an official end last week, after netting some $107 billion in proceeds.
Let’s go to the Times again:
Days before the conversation with Mr. Aldakhil, according to the same intelligence report, Prince Mohammed complained to another aide — Saud al-Qahtani — that Mr. Khashoggi had grown too influential. Prince Mohammed said that Mr. Khashoggi’s articles and Twitter posts were tarnishing the crown prince’s image as a forward-thinking reformer, and the criticism was more cutting because it was coming from a journalist who had once been seen as supportive of his agenda.
When Mr. al-Qahtani said that any move against Mr. Khashoggi was risky and could create an international uproar, his boss scolded him: Saudi Arabia should not care about international reaction to how it handles its own citizens, the crown prince told Mr. al-Qahtani.
Prince Mohammed also told Mr. al-Qahtani, according to an official who has read the report, that he “did not like half-measures — he never liked them and did not believe in them.”
It was al-Qahtani, you might recall, who was on the other end of the phone when the above-mentioned Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb made his infamous “the deed is done” call.
And it just goes on and on and on. Apparently, Aldakhil was instructed to offer Khashoggi a job at Al Arabiya (where Aldakhil was general manager) in an effort to lure him back to Saudi Arabia. At the time, Khashoggi had just started writing for the Washington Post.
Obviously, the timing on this is terrible for Trump coming as it does amid a renewed bipartisan effort to curtail arms sales to Riyadh following the CNN report mentioned above. You can also be sure that Bob Menendez isn’t going to let the White House slide on the Magnitsky request.