Trump has done everything he can to avoid implicating the Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi’s killing. Today, the Senate could force him to act.

  • President Donald Trump has shied away from directly holding Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman responsible for the killing of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi last October.
  • A bipartisan group of senators in October imposed a 120-day deadline for Trump to identify and punish those behind Khashoggi’s disappearance.
  • Those 120 days are up on Friday.
  • Evidence that Prince Mohammed was behind Khashoggi’s killing continues to mount. Senators, and reportedly the CIA, have already pointed the finger at him.

Friday marks a deadline for President Donald Trump to submit a report to Congress determining who was responsible for the brutal killing of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi last October.

A bipartisan group of senators led by Bob Corker, Bob Menendez, Lindsey Graham, and Patrick Leahy asked Trump in an October 10 letter to formally identify the people behind Khashoggi’s disappearance – as it was determined at the time – within 120 days and impose sanctions on them.

Friday marks the end of those 120 days.

Congressional aides have been given no indication that the White House will meet the deadline, Reuters reported on Thursday.

INSIDER was unable to reach the White House’s press office on Friday morning, and it did not respond to Reuters’ request for comment on Thursday.

Khashoggi died at the hands of more than a dozen Saudi agents at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul on October 2. A transcript of an audio recording of his death is said to describe him gasping for air and saying “I can’t breathe.”

Saudi prosecutors have long sought to distance Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from the killing, despite evidence pointing to his culpability.

Read more: Khashoggi’s killing was born of a brutal ‘Game of Thrones’-style culture around the Saudi crown prince, according to a wild insider account

Prince Mohammed at No. 10 Downing Street in London in March. He is widely believed to be responsible for Khashoggi's death.

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Prince Mohammed at No. 10 Downing Street in London in March. He is widely believed to be responsible for Khashoggi’s death.
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Leon Neal/Getty Images

The case against MBS

Citing current and former US and foreign officials with knowledge of intelligence reports, The New York Times reported on Thursday that Prince Mohammed said in 2017 that he would use “a bullet” on Khashoggi if he did not stop publishing critical reports about the kingdom.

Though the crown prince may have been speaking metaphorically, his desire to silence Khashoggi was evident, The Times described US analysts as saying.

Prince Mohammed also sent at least 11 messages around the time of the journalist’s death to the adviser who oversaw Khashoggi’s killing, The Wall Street Journal reported in December, citing a classified CIA report.

Khashoggi is featured on a poster during a protest at the entrance to Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul on October.

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Khashoggi is featured on a poster during a protest at the entrance to Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul on October.
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Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Senators in both parties, and reportedly the CIA, have directly blamed Prince Mohammed for Khashoggi’s killing.

A preliminary United Nations report on Thursday described Khashoggi as “the victim of a brutal and premeditated killing, planned and perpetrated by officials of the State of Saudi Arabia.” It did not name Prince Mohammed.

Baroness Helena Kennedy, who was part of the UN team investigating Khashoggi’s death, told the BBC’s “Today” radio program on Friday that Khashoggi’s death “has all the appearances of being of a highly orchestrated and well-planned assassination of someone who is an opponent and a critic of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in November that Khashoggi’s killing was ordered by the “highest levels” of the Saudi government.

Saudi prosecutors, meanwhile, have shifted their narrative multiple times. In November they charged 11 people in Khashoggi’s killing, saying they had orders to abduct the journalist but ultimately killed him.

Riyadh also claimed that Khashoggi’s body was dismembered and given to an unnamed local collaborator – an account that Ankara has expressed doubts about.

Read more: How the Saudi government’s story on slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi has shifted over time

Trump and Mohammed at the White House in March.

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Trump and Mohammed at the White House in March.
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Getty Images

Will Trump implicate MBS?

Trump has repeatedly covered for Prince Mohammed over Khashoggi’s death, instead touting the value – albeit inflated – of planned arms contracts between Riyadh and Washington and maintaining that the kingdom is “a very good ally.”

Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, who has a close personal relationship with Prince Mohammed, has also avoided naming the crown prince when asked about Khashoggi’s killing.

The Times in December described a Saudi official as saying Kushner had advised the monarch on how to “weather the storm” amid public criticism.

Prince Mohammed, Trump, and Jared Kushner at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Riyadh.

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Prince Mohammed, Trump, and Jared Kushner at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Riyadh.
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Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

The Treasury Department in November sanctioned 17 Saudis accused of involvement in Khashoggi’s killing under the Global Magnitsky Act, a law allowing the US government to punish human-rights offenders by freezing their assets and restricting their travel.

The Treasury sanctions punished one of Prince Mohammed’s top henchmen, Saud Al-Qahtani, whom Saudi Arabia has also blamed in the killing.

The senators who gave Trump the 120-day deadline last October also hope to impose sanctions under the Magnitsky Act on whomever Trump blames for the killing.

Saudi state media in December praised the White House for being “prudent” in its handling of the case.