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Wyden vows push to force release of Khashoggi assessment

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) warned Friday he would attempt to force the release of the intelligence community’s assessment of who is responsible for killing Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi if the intelligence community does not produce an unclassified report on the issue by the end of the Senate’s impeachment trial of President Trump.

The annual defense policy bill signed into law in December required the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) to give Congress an unclassified report on who ordered and helped in killing the U.S.-based columnist at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in 2018.

As first reported by BuzzFeed News, ODNI missed the defense bill’s deadline, which came earlier this week, to deliver that report.

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Speaking to reporters Friday, Wyden vowed to use a procedure in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s rules that allows the panel to vote to release classified information it possesses.

“If that report is not produced by the time the impeachment trial is complete, I intend to initiate a process that allows the Senate to unilaterally make information public under Senate Resolution 400,” Wyden said. “It has been more than a year since agents of the Saudi government murdered Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi embassy in Turkey, and yet the Trump administration refuses to publicly acknowledge who ordered that assassination, and instead the Trump administration is basically running interference for an authoritarian government.”

A section of the resolution that established the Intelligence Committee lays out a process for the panel to release information it has in its possession if it believes doing so in the public interest. First the committee would vote to release the information. The president would then have five days to object. If he does, the committee can then vote to refer the issue to the full Senate, which would then have to vote to release the information for it to become public.

If ODNI does not release a Khashoggi report, Wyden said, that process would let him “work to declassify information that would go into it.”

Wyden said the procedure has been triggered before but “never to a conclusion” because the Senate and previous administrations eventually made deals in those cases.

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It is not uncommon for executive branch offices to miss the myriad reporting deadlines in the annual defense policy bill.

But the Trump administration has been reluctant to publicly blame high-level Saudi officials for Khashoggi’s murder, with Trump defending the U.S. relationship with Riyadh as necessary to counter Iran and bolster the U.S. economy with arm sales.

The CIA has reportedly concluded Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing, though Saudi officials have denied he had any knowledge of the plot.

In December, the kingdom sentenced five people to death and three others to a total of 24 years in jail in connection with Khashoggi’s killing. But none of those sentenced were publicly named, and the most high-ranking officials that were initially charged, including a former top adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed, were cleared during the closed-door trial.

Wyden said the administration “hasn’t explained why” the Khashoggi report hasn’t been delivered.

Wyden added he’s “optimistic” he would get support from Republicans if he tries to force the report’s release because “there is not a lot of appetite for carrying water for the Saudi royal family” in the Senate.

Wyden has also been pushing for information after two United Nations experts earlier this week linked the Saudis to the hacking of Washington Post owner and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s phone.

“The possibility that Prince Mohammed hacked Bezos’s phone makes the case for a public report on Khashoggi’s death “even stronger,” Wyden argued.

“I think as people reflect on this people are going to say what were the Saudis doing?” he said. “Were the Saudis working to be part of some malware arrangement to spy on an American citizen rather than what they should have been doing, which is getting to the bottom of who killed Jamal Khashoggi?”

Chris Mills Rodrigo contributed.

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