The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion So far, the Trump administration is abetting a Saudi coverup of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. Will Congress go along?

Columnist David Ignatius and editor Karen Attiah remember Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October 2018. (Video: Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post, Photo: Courtesy of Hatice Cengiz/The Washington Post)

PRESIDENT TRUMP suggested on Wednesday that he is close to reaching conclusions about the case of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist and Post contributing columnist who was murdered in Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. “I’ll have a much stronger opinion on that subject over the next week,” the president said at a White House news conference. “I’m forming a very strong opinion.” We hope that’s the case — because, so far, the administration’s reaction to the killing has consisted of little more than an attempt at damage control on behalf of the likely author of the operation, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Mr. Trump was briefed on the Khashoggi case more than two weeks ago by CIA Director Gina Haspel, who had just returned from meeting with Turkish investigators. As President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed on Saturday, the Turks shared an audio recording of Mr. Khashoggi’s final moments, which reportedly indicates he was strangled and then dismembered by an autopsy specialist dispatched from Riyadh as a part of a 15-member hit team. Yet neither Mr. Trump, nor anyone else in his administration, has announced any conclusions about how Mr. Khashoggi died, or who bears responsibility for ordering the killing.

Instead, they have pretended to be waiting for the results of a Saudi investigation. King Salman and the crown prince, said national security adviser John Bolton last week, have said “they’re both committed to getting to the bottom of it . . . and we take them at their word that they’re going to do that.”

The obvious problem with that stance is it assumes that Mohammed bin Salman himself is not at the bottom of the Khashoggi plot — though abundant evidence points to the crown prince. In truth, as the administration surely knows, there is no Saudi investigation — only a coverup operation that has clumsily tried to disguise itself as an inquiry. Last week, Turkish officials revealed more evidence of that travesty: Two members of a Saudi delegation sent to Istanbul 10 days after the killing as part of a supposed investigative team actually spent their time cleansing the consulate of evidence before Turkish police were allowed in.

Mr. Trump and other senior officials keep emphasizing their wish to preserve the United States’ strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia, which dates to the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt. There is merit to those arguments — though Mr. Trump’s preoccupation with what he thinks are Saudi pledges to buy more than $100 billion in U.S. weapons is misguided. Maintaining a relationship with Saudi Arabia, however, should not require ignoring or suppressing the facts of what happened to Mr. Khashoggi; on the contrary, they must be brought to light if the United States is to accurately assess its own interests. Nor can the bilateral relationship depend on one 33-year-old prince — especially if it is confirmed that he has capped a record of reckless behavior by overseeing the brutal murder of a distinguished journalist.

Whether Mr. Trump delivers his “very strong opinion” this week, Congress should take up the matter as it reconvenes. Ms. Haspel should be summoned to testify on what the intelligence agencies know about the murder, and the legislators from both parties who have pledged that there would be, in the words of Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), “hell to pay” if the Saudi government were found responsible should start preparing tangible consequences.

Read more:

Boris Johnson: If Jamal Khashoggi’s killers elude justice, Iran will exploit the consequences

Manal al-Sharif: I’m a Saudi activist. Twitter put my life in danger.

David Ignatius: Why was MBS so afraid of Jamal Khashoggi?

Jamal Khashoggi: What the Arab world needs most is free expression