The unclassified report delivered to Senate and House committees on Feb. 20 by the office of the director of national intelligence consisted of an assertion that it would not provide any unclassified information. An ODNI statement said it could not do so without “jeopardizing sources and methods” of intelligence — a response that flew in the face of the administration’s own previous public identification and sanctioning of individuals it said were responsible for Khashoggi’s murder.
The real reason for the failure to comply was evident in the classified annex that accompanied the report. U.S. officials told The Post’s Ellen Nakashima that the annex confirmed that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman played a direct role in the killing. That finding had previously been briefed to Congress by CIA Director Gina Haspel, and it was the conclusion of a public report by a U.N. investigation last year. But it has never been publicly confirmed by the administration, which continues to describe the Saudi ruler as a trusted ally.
The administration’s stonewalling flouts legal requirements in more than one respect. The State Department is required by human rights legislation to sanction foreign actors who have been credibly identified as responsible for human rights crimes. ODNI has now acknowledged — albeit in a classified context — that the crown prince was involved in a particularly heinous crime, the premeditated butchering of a journalist who was a U.S. permanent resident. Yet rather than follow the law, the Trump administration continues to cover for the Saudi strongman, whose offenses also have included the torture and imprisonment of women’s rights activists and medical doctor Walid Fitaihi, a U.S. citizen.
At least there is some congressional pushback. Last week, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and ranking Democrat Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) sent a letter to the acting director of intelligence, Richard Grenell, asking him to reconsider the decision not to release an unclassified report. That followed a similar letter from Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the House Intelligence Committee chairman, who said “the committee does not anticipate that any harm to national security would result from declassifying the findings, with redactions as necessary.”
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is planning a more forceful measure. He says he will invoke a law allowing the Intelligence Committee to vote to release classified information in its possession. Following through on that would probably require a vote by the full Senate, which could not succeed unless Republicans supported it. They should. At stake is not only whether the administration will disclose what it knows about the horrific murder of a journalist but also whether Congress will insist on compliance with its lawful mandates.