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House members demand answers about Khashoggi from top spy chief

Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi speaks during a news conference in Manama, Bahrain, on Feb. 1, 2015. On Monday, more than 50 members of Congress wrote Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats about U.S. intelligence on Khashoggi’s disappearance Oct. 2 in Turkey. (Hasan Jamali/AP/file)

More than 50 Democrats and one Republican in the House sent a letter to the nation’s top spy chief Monday, demanding information about when the United States learned of Saudi Arabia’s plans to target slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and whether they warned him about what they knew.

“We seek urgent answers as to whether Mr. Khashoggi was in fact contacted about the credible threat to his life and liberty posed by the Saudi plot to capture him,” the members, led by Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), wrote to Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats. They also insisted the director tell them “the precise date” when the intelligence community learned of the plot against Khashoggi, and to know whether any of intercepts of Saudi officials’ plans would be declassified. They threatened to compel the information from the intelligence community if it was not readily provided.

“Considering the profound ramifications of this potential crime, U.S. foreknowledge of Saudi plans to detain Mr. Khashoggi, and whether the U.S. intelligence community carried out its duty to warn, we intend to use the full force of congressional oversight and investigatory powers to obtain these answers, should they not be forthcoming,” the members wrote.

Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) joined the Democrats in signing the letter.

U.S. intelligence agencies have a “duty to warn” when they have clear evidence that someone might be in mortal danger — and intercepts showed that the Saudis were discussing a plan to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia. But it is unclear whether U.S. intelligence agencies knew specifics about the threat — and as a dissident, Khashoggi was probably aware that some level of threat existed.

Crown prince sought to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia and detain him, U.S. intercepts show

None of the members who signed the letter sit on the House Intelligence Committee, where members have been receiving more constant access to intelligence surrounding Khashoggi’s disappearance and apparent murder than lawmakers with lower security clearances. But the letter coincides with growing frustration from members on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers of Congress, who say that the administration should be keeping Congress more in the loop about what they know.

The matter is more urgent in the House, where next month members are expected to vote on a measure to invoke the War Powers Resolution as a means of curtailing U.S. military, intelligence and air support for the Saudi-led coalition operating in Yemen’s civil war. Khanna is also the chief sponsor of that measure.

The Senate voted down similar legislation in March, when congressional sentiment surrounding Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was far higher than it has been following Khashohggi’s disappearance.

In the past two weeks, Senate Foreign Relations Committee leaders Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who have said they believe the crown prince had to have been involved in Khashoggi’s disappearance, have invoked the Global Magnitsky Act, encouraging Trump to consider sanctioning the highest officials in the Saudi regime. As new evidence has led the official Saudi explanation to evolve, some lawmakers have called for the expulsion of the Saudi ambassador to the United States and for Mohammed bin Salman to be replaced as the crown prince.

Last week, Trump had said that he found the latest Saudi explanation — that Khashoggi had died in a fistfight — to be credible. On Monday, following a CNN report showing surveillance video depicting an apparent body double leaving the Saudi consulate in Istanbul shortly after Khashoggi entered, Trump said that he was “not satisfied” with Saudi explanations of what occurred.

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