Frustrated senators slammed U.S. President Donald Trump over the weekend for his failure to provide Congress a detailed report on the perpetrators of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder after the deadline of the Magnitsky Act came to an end on Friday.
Following the 120-day period provided by the Magnitsky Act, which targets the people responsible for human rights violations or corruption, Trump refused to provide a report to Congress determining who killed Khashoggi. Trump's idle position angered lawmakers, who have tried to establish a connection between the murder and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), whom the CIA assessed with high-confidence that he "personally targeted" Khashoggi and "probably ordered his death."
In relation to the issue, Juan Pachon, a spokesman for Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, lashed out at Trump, saying, "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 and dismembered by a group of Saudi operatives in the country's consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018. Initially denying and later downplaying the incident as an accidental killing in a fistfight, almost three weeks after the disappearance Riyadh finally admitted that Khashoggi was murdered in a premeditated action but denied any involvement of the royal family. The incident was blamed on lower-level officials, including five that are now facing the death penalty for their involvement. Despite more than 100 days passing since his assassination, the whereabouts of his body remain unknown.
House Foreign Affairs Lead Republican Michael McCaul also commented that he was "deeply troubled" over the decision of the administration, inviting the administration to immediately comply with the requirements of the law and to provide Congress with the information required. He also called for the involved parties to be identified and held accountable.
The comments came after Saudi Arabia's Foreign Ministry warned on Friday "against any attempt to link Khashoggi's crime to Riyadh's leadership."
The case has brought near unprecedented international scrutiny on Saudi Arabia and its powerful crown prince. Yet, Trump has been unwilling to sanction Saudi Arabia or criticize MBS by downplaying the role of the prince, as he sees Riyadh as an important ally for containing Iranian power in the region and the importance of maintaining the order of $110 billion in weapons that supports 500,000 U.S. jobs. In December 2018, the U.S. Senate adopted a nonbinding resolution saying the crown prince was responsible for the murder after hearing the CIA's briefing on Khashoggi. In the same month, the Senate also voted to halt Washington's support for Riyadh in the Yemen war; yet, the U.S. House of Representatives did not implement the decision.
Congress also wants the administration to evaluate the applicability of the Magnitsky Act, which gave the Trump administration and the State Department 120 days to make a decision on new sanctions. The period ended on Feb. 8. Despite the passing deadline, it is not certain what will be the next step for the act since there is way to force Trump to take action.
Not only U.S. lawmakers but also the American media has slammed the administration for its stance on the murder. The New York Times regarded the failure as a part of the efforts of MBS and "his friends in the White House who evidently calculated that the outcry over the barbarous murder of Khashoggi would die over time."
The editorial of the newspaper called for U.S. lawmakers to keep up their pressure on the administration and to demand full disclosure of CIA records related to the murder. The article also stressed the findings of Agnes Callamard, the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, who concluded that "Khashoggi was the victim of a brutal and premeditated killing, planned and perpetrated by officials of the state of Saudi Arabia."
In the wake of a lack of concrete steps in Saudi Arabia, Callamard visited Turkey in late January to launch her own inquiry into the killing.