Which raises an interesting question: Just how far are Republicans willing to go in holding Trump accountable for his ongoing protection of the Saudis, anyway? What will they say when House Democrats begin digging into Trump’s finances, to try to determine whether financial motives help explain it?
In an interview, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said that Trump’s refusal to issue a report on the murder of Khashoggi underscores the need to push forward with congressional scrutiny of Trump’s ties to the Saudi regime.
“We have already planned to do a deep dive on Saudi Arabia, and this further underscores the importance of doing so,” Schiff told me.
U.S. intelligence agencies have reportedly concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s killing. But Trump has repeatedly cast doubt on whether the crown prince was responsible.
In the face of that disconnect, Schiff had previously told this blog that he intends for the Intelligence Committee to do a “deep dive” on the Khashoggi murder, on the president’s response to it, and on the larger questions raised by both. This would entail nailing down what the intelligence community has concluded about the murder, and how firm the basis for that conclusion is.
That, in turn, would give members of Congress a clearer sense of whether Trump is publicly misrepresenting or glossing over what his own intelligence agencies have concluded, to protect the crown prince.
An Intelligence Committee inquiry, Schiff told me at the time, could also look at Trump’s possible financial ties to the Saudis to determine whether there are any “conflicts of interest” that are shaping U.S. policy towards Saudi Arabia — including the U.S. response to the Khashoggi killing.
All this has suddenly become pressing once again. Last week, the White House declined to submit a report documenting the administration’s conclusions about the Khashoggi killing to senators who had requested it. Under the Magnitsky Act, the White House had 120 days to submit the requested report to determine whether human rights violations have occurred, and whether to undertake punitive action.
Senators had asked the administration to make a determination of responsibility for the killing, including on the question of whether the Saudi royal family was behind it.
Schiff now tells me there is a reason the administration has probably blown off this deadline to produce the report.
“I presume that they haven’t produced one, because we know what the conclusion would be,” Schiff said. “Apparently they don’t want to put that in writing to the Congress.”
Schiff said an investigation into this matter might also probe why the administration is dragging its feet on divulging its public conclusion on the killing.
“The broader question is why does the administration continue . . . to try to cover for the Saudi royal family?” Schiff told me, as well as “why does the president continue to dissemble about the role of the crown prince in the murder of Khashoggi?”
"The concern that we have always had is whether this president is acting in the national interest, or because of some hidden financial motivations,” Schiff continued. “I think we need to find out.”
Schiff noted that all this also becomes more pressing in light of the news that Trump kept negotiating a Trump Tower Moscow deal far longer than previously known, deep into the 2016 GOP presidential primaries. Once found out, Trump justified this by saying, in effect, that he had every right to do it, because he might lose the election, and he wanted to keep his businesses going.
“He might lose his reelection — has he taken the same approach now with Saudi Arabia and Russia?” asked Schiff, who also recently announced a wide ranging investigation of the Russia matter that will also include a look at Trump’s financial dealings.
Theoretically characterizing Trump’s possible thought processes, Schiff said: “Why shouldn’t he pursue business opportunities with both, because at some point he’ll be a businessman again?”
“We’re going to be looking at whether there are business dealings of any kind,” including “past financial dealings that the president’s denied, that a foreign power could expose," Schiff told me. “We will use what tools we have to make sure that the president of the United States is acting in the national interest, and not because he or his family have business dealings with other countries.” Schiff added that this could include subpoenaing records from Trump’s businesses.
By all indications, Republicans appear genuinely angry that Trump blew off their demands for an accounting of the Khashoggi murder. It’ll be interesting to see how interested they remain in getting to the bottom of what’s driving Trump once the examination of his finances gets underway in earnest.