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Khashoggi evidence points to Saudi crown prince, and the U.S. faces a dilemma

Seven weeks after Jamal Khashoggi's murder, evidence suggests Saudi Arabia’s crown prince orchestrated the killing. How will the U.S. respond to its longtime ally? To discuss, Nick Schifrin is joined by Rep.-elect Tom Malinowski, D-NJ, who previously worked at the State Department, and Michael Doran, a former director at the National Security Council, now senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    It has been seven weeks since a journalist was murdered at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. But there is still daily pressure on Saudi Arabia and still questions about how the U.S. should respond, now that the U.S. intelligence community has assessed that Saudi Arabia's powerful crown prince was likely involved.

    Nick Schifrin has been following the story.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    In the gilded hall that hosts Saudi Arabia's Consultative Council, a frail King Salman arrived to give his first major speech since Jamal Khashoggi's murder. And he stood by his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, by presenting the kingdom as committed to religious justice.

  • King Salman (through translator):

    The kingdom was founded on the Islamic system, and takes pride in the efforts of the judiciary and the public prosecution to guide the nation and shoulder its responsibilities.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But the kingdom is shouldering heavy pressure today, after Europe banned 18 Saudi nationals connected to the murder and the CIA assessed that Salman likely ordered Khashoggi's murder, as first reported by The Washington Post.

    California Democrat Adam Schiff is the incoming House Intelligence Committee chairman.

  • Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.:

    It's very difficult of me to conceive of a murder of a prominent journalist and critic being carried out without the crown prince's knowledge.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Bipartisan senators are proposing a bill that would suspend offensive weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and sanction Saudis connected to the war in Yemen and Khashoggi's death.

    South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham is the bill's co-signer.

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.:

    They're an important ally, but when it comes to the crown prince, he's irrational, unhinged. And I think he's done a lot of damage to the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia, and I have no intention of working with him ever again.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But the administration has made the crown prince the center of its Middle East policy to reduce radicalism from a hub in Riyadh, confront Iran and its use of proxies like Hezbollah, and support a Middle East peace plan.

  • Chris Wallace:

    Do you just live with it because you need him?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    On "FOX News Sunday," President Trump suggested the pressure on the kingdom should only go so far.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Well, you saw we put on very heavy sanctions, massive sanctions on a large group of people from Saudi Arabia. But, at the same time, we do have an ally, and I want to stick with an ally that in many ways has been very good.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    As a real estate developer, Donald Trump had many Saudi customers, as he mentioned on the campaign trail.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Saudi Arabia — and I get along great with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But Mr. Trump is not the first president to stand arm in arm with the kingdom. President Bush met Crown Prince Abdullah six months after 15 Saudis participated in 9/11.

  • George W. Bush:

    A strategy by some would be to split the United States and Saudi Arabia. It's a strong, important friendship. And he knows that, and I know that. And we're not going to let that happen.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    In 2009, President Obama welcomed King Salman.

  • Barack Obama:

    The fact that he has chosen to take this first visit to the United States is indicative of the longstanding friendship between the United States and Saudi Arabia.

  • Bill Clinton:

    We have worked in close partnership with the Saudis for a long time,

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And President Clinton in 1996, one day after a terrorist attack on a U.S. housing complex in Saudi Arabia.

  • Bill Clinton:

    I think it would be a mistake for the United States basically to change its mission.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    When it comes to Khashoggi, the Saudis have changed their story multiple times, but insist Mohammed bin Salman knew nothing.

  • Chris Wallace:

    Did MBS lie to you, sir?

  • President Donald Trump:

    I don't — I don't know. Who can really know?

    But I can say this. He's got many people now that say he had no knowledge.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    That isn't the first time President Trump expressed faith in a foreign leader's denial and skepticism in a U.S. intelligence assessment.

  • President Donald Trump:

    We have the tape.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But where the president agrees with his intelligence community: Khashoggi's murder was caught on tape, and was brutal.

  • President Donald Trump:

    It's a suffering tape. It's a terrible tape.

  • Chris Wallace:

    And what happened?

  • President Donald Trump:

    It was very violent, very vicious, and terrible.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Now that it's public that the intelligence community has assessed Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was likely involved in Khashoggi's murder, what action, if any, should the administration take?

    Tom Malinowski was just elected to Congress as a Democrat in New Jersey. He was the assistant secretary of state for human rights during the Obama administration and dealt often with Middle East issues. And Michael Doran was the senior director on the National Security Council staff for the Middle East during the George W. Bush administration. He's now a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C.

    Welcome to you both. Thank you for being on the "NewsHour."

    And, Michael Doran, let me start with you.

    U.S. has sanctioned 17 Saudis, instituted a travel ban. We saw today Europe instituted a travel ban as well.

    Has Saudi Arabia paid enough of a price?

  • Michael Doran:

    Hi. Good evening.

    I wouldn't start with the question of, have they paid enough of a price? I would start with the question of, what are U.S. interests, what are our values, and how do we bring our values and our interests into some kind of — into synch with each other?

    And I think that the president is handling this very well, expressing distaste, sanctioning individuals who are involved, but also emphasizing to the Saudis, to the world and to the American public that Saudi Arabia is a very important ally, and we have — a lot of our interests in the region are being carried on the backs of the Saudis.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Tom Malinowski, expressing distaste, but also that saying Saudi Arabia is a strategic ally, is that enough of a response from the president?

  • Congressman-Elect Tom Malinowski:

    No, absolutely not.

    And, you know, this is not just about our values. This is not just a gruesome human rights abuse. There are thousands and thousands of people in the United States who are refugees from countries in the Middle East, from Russia, from China who are critics of their governments.

    If a dictatorship can reach across its borders and murder somebody in the way that the Saudi government did in this case and get away with it, we're going to be living in a very different world, in a much more unfriendly world. It's extremely important, from the standpoint of our interests, that we take a very strong stand, that we hold those responsible accountable, and that we separate our relationship with Saudi Arabia from our relationship with this extremely volatile and destructive young man who is campaigning to be the leader of this country for the next 50 years.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    So, Michael Doran, what about that? As you know well, there are mechanisms that U.S. Congress has, Magnitsky sanctions, to starting MBS, to Mohammed bin Salman, without affecting the larger military and intelligence relationship.

    So, is that kind of targeting response appropriate?

  • Michael Doran:

    Let me just first address the question of the refugees in the United States.

    There are 10 million people uprooted in Syria by the coalition of Iran, the Syrian regime and the Russians. It's that kind of event that we are trying to prevent. We are trying to stabilize the Middle East, so that we don't have millions of refugees, and we're trying to — and the Saudis are very important partners in that effort.

    So to completely throw away our strategy to stabilize the region in order to take action against the leader of Saudi Arabia makes no sense to me. It makes no sense to me strategically. It makes no sense to me morally.

    Without regard to the Magnitsky Act, all this is — these kinds of suggestions or proposals are based on the idea that we have the ability to enforce our will on the Saudis, and they will simply take whatever we do, that they need us much more than we need them.

    I think that is a — I think that that is a very dangerous assumption. We could end up destabilizing Saudi Arabia. The crown prince has very significant enemies inside Saudi Arabia who want to see him go down. He has enemies outside Saudi Arabia. We could also end up pushing Saudi Arabia into the arms of the Russians and the Chinese.

    I think you have to be — we have to be very, very clear-eyed about the real choices that we're making.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Tom Malinowski, is that a threat? By being clear-eyed, as Michael Doran just said, are you missing the strategic implications?

    Saudi, of course, the administration wants them to help with Iran, wants them to help with Yemen, the Middle East peace plan, and countering violent extremism.

  • Congressman-Elect Tom Malinowski:

    Well, Saudi Arabia, when they help us, they do it because it's in their interests, and that's not going to change.

    The notion that this crown prince is helping us to stabilize the Middle East, after he ordered the murder of an American citizen — American resident in Turkey, after he launched a blockade against Qatar, after he launched a war in Yemen that the Trump administration, to its credit, is now trying to end, a war that created mass humanitarian suffering, none of these things are in the U.S. interest.

    And all of these things, I think, should lead us to question whether this young man, with his volatile temperament, with his belief that he can get away with anything, that the United States, for the sake of the relationship, is simply going to give him a pass, no matter what he does, that's what should concern us here.

    And the Magnitsky Act gives us a perfect tool. I implemented the Magnitsky Act at the State Department. It allows us to sanction the person without sanctioning the country. It allows us to say to Saudi Arabia, it's up to you who you choose to be your leader, but should you choose this young man to be your absolute leader for the next 50 years, well, he won't be able to travel to the United States or do business with us.

    And I would just add the notion that the Saudis can somehow replicate with Russia or China the relationship they have with us is absolute fantasy. Saudi security is inextricably linked to its relationship with the United States military. That is not something that Russia or China can provide in the next 10, 20 years or ever.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Michael Doran, very quickly in the time we have left, what about the argument, that Saudi Arabia needs the U.S., effectively, a lot more than the U.S. needs Saudi Arabia?

  • Michael Doran:

    I would think that, if there's one thing that we have learned in the Middle East in the last decade, it's the law of unintended consequences.

    We continue to intervene in the region as if we can dictate outcomes that are completely in line with the way we want the world to be. And I think that that's simply a mistake. We have made a decision as a country to take a step back from the region and to work with our allies to try to stabilize it.

    When you start summing up who's an ally and who's an enemy, there are only three major allies that we have, really, that can help us stabilize Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and that's Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Israel.

    That's what we have to work with. If we start distancing ourselves from allies, we're just handing the region to Iran.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    All right, I'm going to have to cut it off there, unfortunately.

    Michael Doran, Tom Malinowski, thank you very much to you both.

  • Congressman-Elect Tom Malinowski:

    Thank you.

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