On Thursday, in the course of detailing US intelligence intercepts on which Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed can be overheard promising to “use a bullet” on Jamal Khashoggi, we noted that Donald Trump was likely to ignore a Friday deadline for submitting a report to Congress assigning blame for the dissident journalist’s October murder and dismemberment inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
The process, you may recall, was set in motion back in October by Bob 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.
Sure enough, the White House did indeed let the deadline pass. Here’s Trump’s official excuse:
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.
Apparently, “when appropriate” means “when Trump thinks complying with the invocation of the Magnitsky Act would irritate the Saudis, potentially imperiling business relationships and raising even more questions about arms sales to the Kingdom.”
As noted earlier this week, there was no chance Trump would meet the Friday deadline. A declaration implicating Prince Mohammed for Khashoggi’s murder would be directly at odds with the White House’s stance on the issue as communicated on any number of occasions since the murder sparked an international backlash in October.
Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to assist Riyadh in the coverup, going so far as to contend that the CIA and Turkish intelligence are mistaken in their assessments, despite the overwhelming evidence against the Crown Prince and, more importantly, despite common sense. It is, was and always will be entirely ridiculous to suggest that a 15-man hit team comprised in part of people with close ties to Prince Mohammed somehow procured two private jets, flew to Turkey, showed up at the consulate, strangled somebody, chopped up the body with a bone saw and flew back to Riyadh without the Crown Prince knowing anything about it. That is so laughable a proposition that Congress (not to mention the rest of the world) has had a difficult time finding the right words to express their incredulity that the White House (and Mike Pompeo) are still sticking to that story.
This situation was made even more absurd (assuming that’s possible) by the fact that Adel al-Jubeir was actually in Washington this week as the Magnitsky deadline expired. Here’s what he had to say:
We know that the Crown Prince did not order this. We know that this was a rogue operation. [Khashoggi’s murder] was a mistake. These things happen. Mistakes happen. We acknowledged it.
Again, that is so mind-bogglingly ridiculous that one struggles to communicate the scope of the absurdity. For one thing, literally everyone on the planet knows Prince Mohammed ordered the killing. But moreover, “these things” most assuredly don’t “happen”, where “happen” is supposed to mean that chopping up journalists with bone saws is akin to rear-ending someone at a stoplight or a running back fumbling a handoff. This isn’t an “oops” kind of thing.
And do you know who knows that? Adel al-Jubeir, that’s who. Don’t forget, the reason he was appearing in the US this week as “Minister of State for Foreign Affairs” as opposed to “Foreign Minister” is because he was stripped of the latter title by King Salman for his ineptitude at covering up Prince Mohammed’s role in the killing. You really can’t make this stuff up.
Asked about the New York Times’ report that US intelligence is in possession of text and voice communications on which Prince Mohammed discusses (with Turki Aldakhil and Saud al-Qahtani) luring Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia in order to kill him, al-Jubeir said he’s “seen in the past that many so-called reports based on intelligence sources have not panned out.”
He went on to say that when it comes to whether Prince Mohammed should be pushed aside, anyone who attempts to encourage a royal shakeup would be crossing a “red line” for the Kingdom. To wit:
That’s nobody’s business except Saudi Arabia. Our leadership is a red line. I think for anyone to think that they can dictate what we should do or what our leadership should do is preposterous.
That would be an entirely defensible (indeed, a wholly self-evident) assertion were it not for the fact that the Kingdom’s “leadership” is chopping up Washington Post columnists with bone saws in consulates.
Do try to appreciate that all of those comments from al-Jubeir came on Thursday, in Washington, hours ahead of the expiration of the deadline for Trump to respond to Congress and one day after the Senate took more steps down the road towards cutting off arms sales to the Saudis. This continues to be one of the most farcical coverups in the history of coverups, which I suppose isn’t surprising because after all, Trump is involved.
If you’re wondering whether he (Trump) is breaking the law by not responding to Congress, the answer is almost certainly “yes.” Here’s what Senator Patrick Leahy said in a statement:
If the President ignores the clear mandate of the Magnitsky Act in a case involving premeditated murder perpetrated by officials of a foreign government, the White House will share the blame for attempting to cover up the crime and for helping those responsible evade justice.
A spokesperson for Bob Menendez echoed that assessment:
The law is clear. It requires a determination and report in response to the letter we sent with Corker. The president has no discretion here. He’s either complying with the law or breaking it.
I hope I’m getting through to readers here, especially those still predisposed to defending this administration at every possible turn.
Trump is breaking the law here and in this case, that involves participating in a coverup of a heinous murder and, by extension, preserving a relationship that allows the Saudis to procure advanced US weapons which we know they (the Saudis) are not only using to perpetuate the destruction of Yemen, but are in fact using as a kind of currency with Salafi militants in the country.