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Saudi crown prince threatened to harm Khashoggi in 2017, says New York Times

The New York Times reports U.S. intelligence recorded Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman saying in 2017 that he would “use a bullet” on Jamal Khashoggi if the journalist didn't stop criticizing the Saudi government. Meanwhile, Congress is "furious" over the Trump administration's response to Khashoggi's murder. Nick Schifrin talks to Lisa Desjardins and Times reporter Mark Mazzetti.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    It's been more than four months since Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

    The U.S. intelligence community assessed the powerful crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, likely ordered the killing, which roiled relations between Washington and Riyadh and between the White House and Capitol Hill.

    Here's Nick Schifrin.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Last night, The New York Times reported that, before Khashoggi was murdered, Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, was recorded on intercepted communications saying he would — quote — "use a bullet" on Khashoggi if the writer didn't stop his criticism of the Saudi government.

    Mark Mazzetti is the paper's Washington investigative correspondent, and wrote the piece.

    He joins me now.

    Mark, thank you very much.

    How did the intelligence community record this and how and when did they find it?

  • Mark Mazzetti:

    Well, it appears to have come in the routine monitoring that the National Security Agency does of a lot of foreign leaders.

    They record phone calls, they record e-mails, and a lot of the times the messages and the communications are just stored for a later date, when a policy-maker wants information about a world leader or some other more urgent request.

    So the Khashoggi murder created that reason, where the NSA and other intelligence agencies are now going back on years' worth of communications, not only on MBS, but of other Saudi leaders, to determine their culpability in the crime.

    And it's my understanding that this conversation came up and was analyzed sometime in the weeks after the killing, and was produced in a report in the last month or so.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    A few of us met with Adel Al-Jubeir, the Saudi Arabian minister of state for foreign affairs. We asked him about your piece.

    He said — quote — "I can't comment on reports based on anonymous sources. Many reports with anonymous sources have not panned out."

    And then he kept saying: "When Oliver North was engaged on Iran-Contra, did Ronald Reagan know? These things happen. Mistakes happen. This was done outside the scope of authority."

    What's your response to that?

  • Mark Mazzetti:

    I thought it was a curious analogy to use, because, after years of investigation, they got pretty close to almost showing that Reagan knew, it seems.

    But putting that aside, I mean, clearly, the strategy from the beginning here is to protect the crown prince, isolate him from this, what Jubeir said today was a mistake.

    Clearly, it was a heinous crime. And it has tarnished the image of Saudi Arabia. And so they — although the story of the Saudi — the Saudi story has changed over time, it has been consistent in one fact: The crown prince knew nothing about it.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Mark Mazzetti with The New York Times, good reporting. Thank you very much.

  • Mark Mazzetti:

    Thank you.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And to talk about the state of play on Capitol Hill, I turn to our congressional correspondent, Lisa Desjardins.

    Thank you very much for being here.

    So, there was a deadline today for the administration to report to Congress on what it thinks happen to Jamal Khashoggi. And the administration has made it clear that it's pretty much not going to submit that report.

    And Secretary Pompeo sent a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which you just obtained, saying that the U.S. was the first nation to take action and designate 17 Saudi individuals for sanctions, and that we have aggressively use the global Magnitsky program, under which these sanctions were enacted. And that's about it.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yes.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    What's the reaction on Capitol Hill?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Well, let's first translate what that letter is saying.

    That letter essentially is the report that the president was required to give. This report was triggered by the ranking and chairman of Senate Foreign Relations last fall. And they had 120 days to look into this idea of the Khashoggi murder. And we just now have a two-paragraph response after that 120 days.

    And the response so far is furious. We have — the first official responses from Patrick Leahy, Democrat. He was one of the ones who requested this.

    He goes so far as to say, if the president ignores basically the mandate of holding someone responsible for this murder, "The White House will share the blame for attempting to cover up the crime."

    Now, meanwhile, we will hear from more Republicans who also requested this report or this letter. We heard from the new Senate Foreign Relations chairman, Jim Risch of Idaho. He acknowledged the letter. He said he anticipates a more detailed briefing from the administration. No date on that yet.

    And also he notes: "Legislation has been introduced on this issue. I expect more to come."

    Speaking with staff and people who are aware, they are not sure what that legislation would mean. But, remember, the entire Senate voted unanimously that the crown prince of Saudi Arabia personally was responsible for this murder.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    So more to come.

    Very quickly, Lisa Desjardins, do we know what is more to come?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Well, I think we know something next week.

    The House is expected to vote on a resolution, not on this murder, not on the crown prince, but on a related issue, Yemen. And we do expect the House to pass a resolution requiring the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Yemen. This is something the Senate passed last year.

    So this is something that would be action, and not just sort of a symbolic passing back and forth of letters. It's something to watch.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Lisa Desjardins, thank you very much.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You're welcome.

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