Sen. Warner: White House shouldn’t allow Saudi ‘whitewash’

Senate Intelligence Committee ranking member Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., speaks to witnesses during a committee hearing on foreign influence operations and their use of social media on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

WASHINGTON — Members of Congress are expressing concerns that the Saudi Arabian government could effectively get away with murder in connection with the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Friday that it is becoming “increasingly clear” that Khashoggi was murdered at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.

Warner said it appears that Khashoggi’s suspected death involves people who were close to Saudi Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman — known as MBS.

“My concern is, will the clique of individuals around MBS, in a sense, take out and create a scapegoat of some of these individuals who may have been involved directly in the crime?” Warner said.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers have been keeping pressure on the White House not to let the Saudis explain away Khashoggi’s disappearance. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, complained this week that the Trump administration hasn’t been doing enough to provide intelligence updates to senators.

Warner said he has received an intelligence briefing, but declined to provide details.

The Virginia lawmaker echoed the criticism of other Democrats, who say President Trump hasn’t done enough to put pressure on the Saudi government to take responsibility for whatever happened.

“I’m concerned, in a world where the words of an American president matter, that this president has not stood up for human rights, not stood up for freedom of the press,” Warner said, adding that inaction can give other countries “a green light” to go after journalists.

“The problem is, we’ve got at least in terms of the White House, a real willingness to seem to whitewash or not fully hold these individuals accountable,” he said.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, has also been highly skeptical of the Saudis and the crown prince’s denial that he was aware of what happened to Khashoggi.

“There’s no way that you had this very elaborate murder take place in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul with very clear orchestration, without top Saudi authorities being directly involved in the planning,” Van Hollen said earlier this week.

Lawmakers from both parties say they’re anxiously awaiting the newest information in the case. Warner has a particular interest, noting that Khashoggi was a Virginia resident before he disappeared in Turkey.

“I think it raises real concerns about what our country’s reaction is going to be,” Warner said.

A bipartisan group of senators has pressed for sanctions under the Magnitsky Act if Saudi Arabia isn’t forthcoming. The act is named after Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in prison after revealing government fraud.

A subsequently passed law, the Global Magnitsky Act, includes a requirement that the president respond to requests from the heads of some key congressional committees as they review possible human rights violations.


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