The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) has released an unclassified report assessing that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) approved the operation to "capture or kill" Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
Why it matters: The grisly October 2018 murder of Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul sparked worldwide outrage and calls for the U.S. to fundamentally reevaluate its relationship with the Gulf kingdom.
- Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines pledged in her Senate confirmation hearing to comply with a law passed by Congress in 2019 that required ODNI to release the names of the Saudi officials believed to be responsible or complicit in Khashoggi's killing within 30 days.
- The long-awaited report was blocked from public view for over a year by the Trump administration, which shared close ties with the royal family and cast Saudi Arabia as central to its Middle East strategy.
The big picture: In five weeks, Biden has ended support for the Saudi war effort in Yemen, frozen a large arms deal and snubbed MBS by declining to speak with him directly. The moves come after Biden referred to the kingdom as a "pariah" on the campaign trail.
Background: Jamal Khashoggi was a prominent Saudi journalist and royal insider who became an outspoken critic of MBS in 2017 after the newly appointed crown prince began cracking down on dissent, even as he led a campaign of social and economic reforms.
- Khashoggi fled Saudi Arabia in 2017 and went into self-imposed exile in Virginia, where he wrote columns for the Washington Post that were frequently critical of the regime.
- On Oct. 2, 2018, Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to retrieve marriage documents and never came out.
The ensuing investigation into his disappearance drew global media attention and demands for answers from the Saudi government, which intensified amid reports that Khashoggi had been killed and dismembered with a bone saw by a team of operatives waiting inside the consulate.
- Former President Trump, whose son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner had a close personal relationship with MBS, ultimately chose to publicly stand by the Saudis in November 2018, even after the CIA reportedly concluded that the crown prince had ordered the assassination.
- In a lengthy statement, Trump called Khashoggi a suspected member of the Muslim Brotherhood, speculated that "we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder," and pointed to billions of dollars in weapons sales and investment that Saudi Arabia had agreed to.
- MBS has denied ordering the murder or having any knowledge of the operation, but acknowledged in 2019 for the first time that he bears "responsibility" because "it happened under my watch."
The state of play: Biden spoke to Saudi King Salman for the first time as president on Thursday, one day after he told reporters that he had read the Khashoggi report. A White House readout of the call stressed the importance of the relationship and did not mention Khashoggi or MBS.
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