SAUDI ARABIA’S crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, is brazenly seeking to lie his way out of accountability for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi — and the Trump administration is helping him do so. On Thursday, a state prosecutor in Riyadh advanced an account of the killing blatantly at odds with established facts, excusing the crown prince from all blame. Rather than reject this contemptible coverup, President Trump, who had pledged to “get to the bottom” of the case, went along with it. The Treasury Department imposed sanctions on 17 mostly low-level suspects already implicated by the Saudis, while excusing both Mohammed bin Salman and top intelligence officials.
Now we learn that Mr. Trump backed the Saudi leader despite a conclusion by the CIA that the prince was, in fact, responsible for ordering Khashoggi’s assassination. The Post reports that intelligence officials have “high confidence” in their assessment and have briefed the president on their evidence, which includes an audio recording of the killing and phone calls by the leader of the kill team as well as the Saudi ambassador in Washington. Mr. Trump nevertheless has refused to accept Mohammed bin Salman’s responsibility, perhaps because that would mean acknowledging that the White House’s outsize bet on the 33-year-old prince as a strategic ally was badly mistaken.
As in the case of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, Mr. Trump is rejecting a firm conclusion by the U.S. intelligence community that he finds politically inconvenient. And as in that instance, Congress should move to base U.S. foreign policy on truth rather than lies.
A number of legislators from both parties have spoken up in rejection of the Saudi coverup and the administration’s pitiful response. Three Republican senators — Lindsay O. Graham (S.C.), Todd C. Young (Ind.) and Susan Collins (Maine) — have joined three Democrats, including Robert Menendez (N.J.), the ranking minority member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to back legislation that would require the administration to sanction within 30 days “any official of the government of Saudi Arabia or member of the royal family” tied to the Khashoggi murder by “credible evidence.” Given the CIA conclusion, that would cover Mohammed bin Salman. The bill would also suspend most U.S. arms sales and deliveries to Saudi Arabia until it “honored a complete cessation of hostilities in the Yemen war” and stopped interfering with deliveries of humanitarian aid.
The senators are pressing for the legislation to be taken up by the Foreign Relations Committee in its working session after Thanksgiving so that it can move during the lame-duck session. When we asked committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) about that, he made no commitment. But he told us that Mohammed bin Salman “must be held accountable.” Mr. Corker said he has asked for “a high-level administration briefing for all senators on what more will be done so that we can appropriately coordinate any necessary legislative component of a government-wide response.”
Mr. Corker is giving Mr. Trump a chance to tell the truth about Mohammed bin Salman and adjust his policies accordingly, a correction that is essential to a rational and workable U.S. strategy in the Middle East. If the White House instead continues to abet the crown prince in his lies, Congress must act — swiftly and decisively.