Saudi Arabia’s admission about the fate of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi won’t stop Congress from forcing an investigation that could end in sanctions for the monarchy, said a top Republican senator.
“The story the Saudis have told about Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance continues to change with each passing day, so we should not assume their latest story holds water,” Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said late Friday.
Saudi Arabia said Friday evening that Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who entered a Saudi consulate in Istanbul 17 days ago and was never seen again, died in their custody. State-run media claimed that he died by accident after a meeting “developed in a negative way;” that’s a far cry from reports, citing anonymous Turkish officials, that he was murdered and dismembered by an assassination squad sent to the country for that purpose.
“They can undergo their own investigation, but the U.S. administration must make its own independent, credible determination of responsibility for Khashoggi’s murder under the Global Magnitsky investigation as required by law,” Corker said.
That’s an implicit break with President Trump’s administration, which has pointed to the prospective results of a Saudi Arabian investigation as a clarifying event. “It’s reasonable to give them a handful of days more to complete it so they get it right, so that it’s thorough and complete,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday.
But Senate lawmakers long have sounded more convinced that Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s death. Corker’s persistent skepticism of the latest Saudi account is significant because, under federal law, he and the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations panel — New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez — have the authority to trigger an investigation that would force the administration either to absolve Saudi leaders or impose human rights sanctions on anyone involved in the murder.
“Our expectation is that in making your determination you will consider any relevant information, including with respect to the highest ranking officials in the Government of Saudi Arabia,” the two senators wrote to the administration in a letter calling for the investigation.
Saudi officials originally maintained that Khashoggi left their custody alive. When Corker asked an diplomat to prove it by releasing surveillance footage of his exit, the ambassador replied that their cameras at the facility could "only livestream" rather than record a video. “That was pretty hard for me to believe, and I shared that with him,” Corker told reporters at the time.