The explanation by the Saudi Arabian government that 60-year-old, out-of-shape Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed during a fist fight against hardened security men is being soundly dismissed by politicians and media on Sunday morning news analysis programs.
Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi government, disappeared October 2 after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. After denying a role in the Khashoggi disappearance, the Saudi government finally admitted late last week that he died during his meeting there. The Turkish government, which claims it has recordings of Khashoggi’s murder, said it will release its report on Tuesday.
Saudi Arabia has initiated its own “investigation” into Khashoggi’s death led by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (known as MBS), the heir apparent to the kingdom and a major Hollywood/tech industry player. The official U.S. position is to wait and see the results of that. But analysts on Sunday news programs scoffed at the notion that anyone but MBS himself could have authorized the murder, and some predicted his viability as a leader is in jeopardy.
Karen Attiah, the global opinions editor of the Washington Post and Khashoggi’s editor, called the Saudi explanation “a cover-up” on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos.
“I still believe and the Post as an institution still believes that this is not an explanation, this is an attempt at a cover-up,” Attiah said. “So much doesn’t add up for me personally who knew Jamal, worked with Jamal over the last year.”
If the U.S. gives the Saudis a pass on the Khashoggi murder, it will have wide implications, Attiah said, creating a “free pass to be able to go to other countries and snatch people up just for having an opinion.”
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) of the House Intelligence Committee was equally dismissive of Saudi claims during his time on This Week. “I can tell you I don’t find this Saudi account credible at all. There’s simply no way they dispatched a team this large and that Khashoggi engaged in some kind of a brawl with them unless he was merely fighting for his life. But I think we can see where this is headed.”
Schiff said he found it “hard to imagine that these orders would have been carried out without the knowledge of the Crown Prince. He called for sanctions on those directly involved in the murder.
On NBC’s Meet the Press, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) said he believed the Crown Prince ordered the Khashoggi murder.
“Five of his top personal bodyguards are among those accused,” Durbin said. “His personal bodyguards and one of them have said, publicly a year ago, ‘I don’t move without an order from the executive.’ The Crown Prince has his fingerprints all over this and the fact that he is heading up the investigation makes it totally incredible.”
Durbin suggested expelling the Saudi ambassador from the U.S. until there is a third-party investigation. “We should call on our allies to do the same. Unless the Saudi kingdom understands that civilized countries around the world are going to reject this conduct and make sure that they pay a price for it, they’ll continue doing it.”
CNN’s State of the Union saw Sen. Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, say Saudi explanations were not credible. Corker also said Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud was likely behind the death.
“I don’t know yet, but based on the intel that I’ve read, based on the other excerpts I’ve read, it’s my thinking that MBS was involved in this, that he directed this, and that this person was purposely murdered,” Corker said. “We’ll have a chance to see that, hopefully, very soon. My sense is, even over the next week it will become much clearer.”
He added, “My sense is that he is behind it. I want to see the rest of the documentation and know more about it. that’s my sense.”
The Saudis continue to blame a “rogue operation” for Khashoggi’s death. Fox News on Sunday featured Bret Baier interviewing Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir, who said the 18 people implicated in Khashoggi’s slaying would be punished appropriately.
“This was an operation that was a rogue operation,” Al-Jubeir contended. “This was an operation where individuals ended up exceeding the authorities and responsibilities they had. They made the mistake when they killed Jamal Khashoggi in the consulate and they tried to cover up for it.”
Subscribe to Deadline Breaking News Alerts and keep your inbox happy.