While praising the Biden administration for calling out Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over his role in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said Friday that the White House did not go far enough in holding the country’s de facto ruler accountable.
“This was a blunt statement by the director of national intelligence, Avril Haines, that the crown prince has blood on his hands,” Schiff said in an interview on the Yahoo News “Skullduggery” podcast about the release of a U.S. intelligence report concluding that Crown Prince Mohammed “approved an operation” to “capture or kill” Khashoggi inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018.
But Schiff said he had reservations about the administration’s failure to accompany the release with stiffer measures aimed at holding Mohammed accountable, including making it clear the U.S. government will no longer have anything to do with him.
“I would like to see the administration go further and I’ve told the administration as much,” Schiff said. “I don’t think the president should meet with the crown prince. I don’t think he should be invited to the United States. I don’t think the president should be speaking with him and ... I think we should look at going after some of his assets in the Saudi investment fund that are tied to entities that had a role in this murder.”
Those steps should be taken even if, as expected, Mohammed — as the next in line for succession — becomes absolute ruler once his father, 85-year-old King Salman, who is believed to be in poor health, dies.
“I think we continue to shun him,” Schiff said when asked what happens if Mohammed becomes king. “I don’t think we have head-to-head, state-to-state meetings. And frankly, if I were attending a summit in which the crown prince [was present], I wouldn’t want to participate in a conversation with him if I was president.” He also said he backed banning all U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
Schiff’s comments came after the release of a U.S. intelligence report that concluded Mohammed was complicit in the operation that led to Khashoggi’s murder because he has “absolute control” over the Saudi kingdom’s security and intelligence apparatus, and that it was therefore “highly unlikely” that Saudi officials would have carried out the operation without his approval.
Moreover, the report noted, seven of 15 members of the Saudi hit team that killed Khashoggi were members of a Saudi Rapid Intervention Force that “exists to defend the Crown Prince, answers only to him and directly participated in earlier dissident suppression operations in the Kingdom and abroad at the Crown Prince’s direction.”
In response to the report, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the administration would impose a “Khashoggi ban” that would prevent those involved in state-sponsored “extraterritorial counterdissident activities” from getting U.S. visas. He then placed 76 Saudis on the list, including many who were involved in operations to kidnap or intimidate other Saudi dissidents overseas.
But also this week, the White House released a readout on President Biden’s phone call to King Salman on Thursday that made no reference to the crown prince or his role in Khashoggi’s death. While the readout said Biden “affirmed the importance the United States places on universal human rights and the rule of law,” it also said the president told the king he “would work to make the bilateral relationship as strong and transparent as possible.”