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Trump declines bipartisan call to investigate Jamal Khashoggi’s killing

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The White House on Friday signaled President Donald Trump will ignore a request from a bipartisan group of senators to investigate and report on Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal killing.

Senators on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in October invoked the Global Magnitsky Act of 2016 in response to Khashoggi’s killing, which gave the president 120 days to report back to Congress on his findings and how he plans to react.

The Global Magnitsky Act is an Obama-era law named for Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian accountant and whistleblower who died in a Russian prison after facing serious abuse. The law expanded on previous legislation, the Magnitsky Act, which imposed sanctions on Russians allegedly involved in serious human rights violations.

The law offers a path for the US to impose sanctions on people who’ve committed gross human rights violations outside of Russia. It also includes a requirement for the president to respond within 120 days to requests from the heads of a number of congressional committees with a report on whether a “foreign person” has committed human rights violations and if sanctions will be imposed.

The letter sent to Trump in October on Khashoggi was spearheaded by then-Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Sen. Bob Corker and ranking member Sen. Bob Menendez.

Friday marked the deadline for Trump to offer his findings and plan of action, but it appears he will not honor this.

The White House’s seeming contention is that President Donald Trump has already sufficiently responded to Khashoggi’s killing with sanctions against Saudis allegedly involved in the incident. This appears to be the administration’s justification for the president not directly honoring the bipartisan Senate request. The White House also maintains Trump has the “discretion” to “decline” committee requests when “appropriate.”

A senior White House official on Friday told INSIDER, “The State Department updates Congress regularly on the status of actions related to the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. The United States was the first country to take significant measures, including visa actions and sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act, against those responsible for this heinous act.”

The official added, “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. The U.S. government will continue to consult with Congress and work to hold accountable those responsible for Jamal Khashoggi’s killing.”

Critics contend Trump is ignoring legal obligations and breaking the law by refusing to offer a report.

Juan Pachón, communications director for Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in response to the White House statement said, “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.”

In this Dec. 15, 2014, file photo, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi speaks during a press conference in Manama, Bahrain. An independent U.N. human rights expert says authorities in Saudi Arabia quietly held a second court hearing for 11 people facing charges over the killing of Khashoggi. Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who wrote critically about Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was killed inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali, File)
Hasan Jamali/AP

Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on October 2. The Saudi government’s narrative on what happened to Khashoggi shifted from outright denial to acknowledging he was killed in the consulate, with various twists and turns in its story along the way.

The US intelligence community has reportedly concluded Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, ordered his agents to kill Khashoggi. The kingdom has vehemently denied Prince Mohammed’s involvement, despite ongoing reports suggesting he’s directly responsible.

Khashoggi, a Saudi national who wrote for The Washington Post, was often critical of the Saudi royal family in his columns.

The Trump administration has come under withering criticism, including from top Republicans in Congress, for not offering a more forceful response to Khashoggi’s killing. Trump has so far refused to place blame on the crown prince, and in response to questioning on the matter has frequently touted US arms sales to the kingdom.

The White House signaling Trump will not be reporting to Congress comes a day after The New York Times reported that the crown prince told a top aide in 2017 that he would use “a bullet” on Khashoggi. The report was based on information from current and former American and foreign officials with direct knowledge of intelligence reports.

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