June 24, 2019

Wyden: If the Intelligence Community Won’t Release Report on Murder of U.S.-Based Journalist, Congress Must Release It

Wyden Amendment to NDAA Requires Unclassified Report on Who Ordered the Murder of Washington Post Columnist Jamal Khashoggi; If IC Does Not Comply Wyden Vows to Use S. Res 400 to Force Release

Washington, D.C.—If the Intelligence Community refuses to publicly release information about which Saudi officials are responsible for ordering the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today vowed to invoke a special Senate procedure to force the release of that information.

In a speech on the Senate floor, Wyden, a senior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, warned that the administration’s inaction in response to the murder of a U.S.-based journalist puts reporters around the world at risk.

“Right now Donald Trump is telling the Saudis and every other dictator in the world that, for the right price, you can murder a U.S.-based journalist you don’t like, you can dismember his body and make it disappear,” Wyden said. “As far as Donald Trump is concerned, the lives of journalists are for sale.”

Wyden also condemned the administration’s supplication to the authoritarian leader of Saudi Arabia, even in the face of repeated, grotesque, human rights abuses.

The pending defense authorization bill includes a Wyden-authored provision requiring the Director of National Intelligence to release an unclassified report on who was responsible for ordering Khashoggi’s killing. If the administration refuses to comply with that provision, Wyden said he will invoke Section 8 of S. Res 400, which allows the Senate to release information over the president’s objections.

Read Wyden’s full remarks, as prepared for delivery, below.

Wyden Floor Statement on the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi

As Prepared for Delivery 

Mr. President, today I want to speak about Saudi Arabia’s brutal murder of U.S. resident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi. This despicable act has been condemned by the Congress, by the American public and by people and governments around the world. But Donald Trump and members of his administration won’t talk about it. They want to sweep this atrocity under the rug, and the U.S. Congress must not allow that to happen.

The Senate is currently debating the Defense Authorization Act, which this year includes the Intelligence Authorization Act. That intelligence bill contains an amendment I offered, with Senators Heinrich, Harris, Feinstein and Bennet, that requires the Director of National  Intelligence to provide a public report identifying those who carried out, participated in, ordered or were otherwise responsible for the killing of Mr. Khashoggi. 

Last Wednesday, the UN released a detailed report on the Khashoggi murder. The report described how, even before Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Saudi officials had planned the killing meticulously. A team of more than a dozen Saudi agents was organized. Their travel accommodations were designed to mask the purpose of their trip to Turkey. The consulate office where the killing took place was cleared of staff. In the moments before Khashoggi’s arrival at the consulate, the Saudi agents were recorded discussing how to kill and dismember him and dispose of his body. They referred to Khashoggi as “the sacrificial animal.”  The report even describes the recorded sounds of the killing and dismemberment. 

Who bears ultimate responsibility for this brutal, abhorrent crime? The UN report stated that every expert consulted finds it inconceivable that an operation of this scale could be implemented without the Crown Prince, at the very least, being aware that some kind of criminal act was to be conducted against Mr. Khashoggi. The UN then concluded that there was “credible evidence, warranting further investigation of high-level Saudi Officials’ individual liability, including the Crown Prince’s.” 

The U.S. Senate has also spoken. In a resolution passed unanimously, the Senate stated that it believes that the Crown Prince is responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

But Donald Trump and his administration have refused to discuss this publicly. Last November, Donald Trump said that the Intelligence Community was continuing to assess information about the killing, but as for the question of whether the Crown Prince had knowledge, the president said only “maybe he did and maybe he didn’t.” Then he said “We may never know all of the facts.”

So at the Senate Intelligence Committee’s open threats hearing in January, I asked the CIA Director whether the U.S. Senate’s unanimous belief that the Crown Prince was responsible was correct. She acknowledged that Khashoggi’s murder was premeditated. In terms of who was responsible, she referred to what the Saudis had said publicly. But Director Haspel said that she would not disclose to the public the IC’s assessment of who was involved in this brutal murder.

That is why there is a provision in the Intelligence Authorization Act requiring a public report on the Khashoggi killing. That provision is there so that, finally, more than eight months after the murder, there can be some transparency and accountability.

Why does this matter? It matters because the Trump administration has bent over backwards to please the dictator running Saudi Arabia.

The UN report recommended an FBI investigation of the Khashoggi murder. Donald Trump has made it clear he is not interested. This is part of a pattern. In one of the most dismal and disappointing responses I have seen to any national security concern -- this administration refuses to look into whether Saudi officials helped Saudi criminal suspects flee the United States to escape justice.

Administration officials continue to turn a blind eye to the Saudi government’s grotesque human rights abuses. Donald Trump vetoed bipartisan legislation that would have ended U.S. support for a devastating and seemingly endless war in Yemen. The president recently invoked a phony emergency to go around Congress and sell arms to the Saudis. Example after example, whether it’s within our borders, in a consulate office in Istanbul or elsewhere, this administration helps to cover up the Saudi government’s brutality. 

Mr. President, Jamal Khashoggi, besides being a U.S. resident, was a journalist who wrote for a U.S. newspaper. The absence of transparency and accountability for his murder sends a horrible message – that as far as the Trump administration is concerned, it’s open season on journalists.  Donald Trump is making this clear when he cozies up to dictators cracking down on journalists in places like Russia, Hungary and the Philippines. And that doesn’t even include his affection for the dictator of North Korea, where there is no press at all.

Donald Trump’s contempt for a free press here in the United States is also as apparent as it is dangerous. His White House and Pentagon have simply stopped all press briefings. Donald Trump has threatened to use the taxation and anti-trust powers of the government to punish the media when they dare to criticize him. At his rallies, he has whipped up his supporters against the media to the point where they are threatening journalists in attendance. Almost every day, he dismisses any media outlet that accurately describes the corruption of his administration as “fake news.” Recently, he accused journalists at the New York Times of treason after they published a story that displeased him.

The Trump administration created a secret list of journalists it targeted for tracking and questioning – journalists who were reporting on the administration’s cruel treatment of migrants at the southern border. Border agents have even detained journalists – American citizens – and subjected them to prying questions about their travel and work. 

And, most ominously, over and over again, he calls journalists “enemies of the people.” That is language designed to justify state repression or vigilante violence against journalists. It is also language that comes straight from the worst dictators in history. But that is what Donald Trump thinks of the press, which is why the Saudis told him that Jamal Khashoggi was an “enemy of the state.”

The president seems to believe that First Amendment freedom of the press should apply only to those who say nice things about Donald Trump. Reporting facts to the public – on corruption in the administration, on the president’s tax cheating, on the administration’s policy of locking up migrant children in cages without beds, soap or toothbrushes – Donald Trump considers that to be a treasonous act.

The brutal, premeditated murder of Jamal Khashoggi is the canary in the coalmine for press freedom around the world. These are dangerous times for journalists. It’s already a dangerous career in many countries. If dictators see the killing of Jamal Khashoggi as a signal that they, too, can get away with cold-blooded murder, then how many more journalists and dissidents will die?  That is why I am drawing the line right here.

The events of the last week have only highlighted the moral urgency of this issue. In an interview aired yesterday, Donald Trump was asked repeatedly about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. And each time, he kept coming back to Saudi money. “Take their money. Take their money,” he said. First, I disagree that U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia somehow mean that they have all the leverage and that the United States is helpless. But more important, the message that impunity for a brutal murder can be bought is both repulsive and dangerous. Right now Donald Trump is telling the Saudis and every other dictator in the world that, for the right price, you can murder a U.S.-based journalist you don’t like, you can dismember his body and make it disappear. As far as Donald Trump is concerned, the lives of journalists are for sale.

In the same interview, Donald Trump was also asked about the UN’s call for an investigation into the Khashoggi murder. He made it clear that he would resist any public accountability. He said the murder had already been “heavily investigated” and that he’d seen, quote, “so many different reports.” Well, it is time for the American people, the Congress and everyone around the world fighting for press freedom to see the reports.

Last week, Jamal Khashoggi’s fiancée wrote a powerful essay in the New York Times. She wrote that “Washington has chosen not to use its strong ties and leverage with Riyadh to get the Saudis to reveal the truth about Jamal’s murder and to ensure those responsible are held accountable.” She described her meetings with members of Congress who were sympathetic, but were embarrassed that nothing had been done. And this is what she concluded: “I began to feel that Jamal had not only died in Istanbul but also in Washington.”

That cannot be the last chapter. The U.S. Congress must demonstrate that the fight for press freedom does not die in Washington. 

Mr. President, in order to get my amendment passed by the Committee, I accepted boilerplate language about protecting sources and methods. But let me be clear, if the Intelligence Community attempts to use that language to avoid real transparency and accountability, I will fight them tooth and nail. That includes using the means available to members of the Senate Intelligence Committee to get information to the public. I want to be specific here. I am talking about Section 8 of S. Res. 400, which allows members of the Committee to initiate a process that ultimately would permit the Senate to release information over the objection of the president.

I do not make this threat lightly. I hope it doesn’t come to that – I hope that the DNI adheres to the intent of this provision and tells the world and the public what it knows.  But if not, I will not rest. The stakes are too high. Press freedom, here and around the world, must survive. Intimidation and murder cannot be allowed to stand.