Get the best stories to your readers as they happen. The Washington Post News Service streams breaking news, enterprise and features with photos, graphics and video directly to you.

Anger over economic, political setbacks roils Middle East 10 years after Arab Spring

By Liz Sly
Anger over economic, political setbacks roils Middle East 10 years after Arab Spring
King Abdullah Financial District is a new development in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Tasneem Alsultan

Biden may not have the same chance Obama did for early legislative wins

By Paul Kane
Biden may not have the same chance Obama did for early legislative wins
President Biden, with Vice President Harris by his side, signs executive orders at the White House on Jan. 22. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford.

New River Gorge: America's newest national park is one of West Virginia's hidden gems

By Kate Morgan
New River Gorge: America's newest national park is one of West Virginia's hidden gems
The New River Gorge Bridge spans the canyon 876 feet above the river. Hiking and mountain biking trails and railroad tracks cross the rugged Appalachian forest surrounding the gorge. MUST CREDIT: Jay Young/Adventures on the Gorge

Pulitzer-winning opinion from the most respected voices in the world.

Keeping 'alternative facts' out of the census

By catherine rampell
Keeping 'alternative facts' out of the census

CATHERINE RAMPELL COLUMN

Advance for release Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, and thereafter

(For Rampell clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Catherine Rampell

The presidency that celebrated "alternative facts" may be over. But those "alternative facts" may still poison the country for the next decade.

Unless, that is, the government acts swiftly to ensure that the recently completed decennial census is not tainted by the Trump era.

No census is easy, but the 2020 Census faced unusual challenges: Much of the population growth over the past decade has been among groups whom demographers consider "hard to count" (immigrants, people of color, others with low survey-response rates). Then came covid-19, which complicated in-person outreach and follow-ups. Knocking on doors or trying to extract information from nursing homes became especially difficult amid a pandemic.

Then, the Trump administration piled on.

Last year, Trump officials kept changing plans for census field work, ending such operations earlier than scheduled. Worse, then-President Donald Trump repeatedly attempted to politicize the census. He tried to jam through a new question on citizenship. He ordered granular counts of noncitizens and tried to exclude undocumented immigrants from the official population tallies.

Thanks to court challenges, an inspector general investigation and, ultimately, executive action from President Joe Biden, Trump's anti-immigrant orders have officially died. But his objectives may have been achieved anyway, by discouraging immigrants and minorities from participating in the census.

We don't yet know how much Trump's xenophobic policies might have chilled census response rates. Preliminary data show that two-thirds of predominantly Hispanic or Black neighborhoods had lower self-response rates in 2020 than in 2010, according to an analysis of census tracts from Steven Romalewksi of the Center for Urban Research at the City University of New York's Graduate Center.

Other researchers have told me that some educational institutions withheld students' names and other characteristics when contacted by the Census Bureau last year, because they worried the information would be used to track down immigrants.

All this made those "hard to count" populations even "harder to count," as American Statistical Association President Robert L. Santos recently told me.

Making sure every single person gets counted is, to adapt a Bidenism, a big friggin' deal. And not only because the Constitution explicitly requires it.

Census data determine how many congressional seats each state receives and how districts are drawn. They decide how billions of federal dollars are distributed. State and local officials rely on these numbers to design infrastructure, public services and crisis response plans.

The census is also the baseline against which virtually all other surveys -- public or private -- are calibrated.

If census data are flawed, they will distort virtually all other downstream measures. Which will, in turn, distort decisions made by the governments, businesses and families that rely on those measures -- about where to locate, what to sell, whom to hire, what to study, how much to spend on a home and even whether politicians are delivering on their promises.

In other words, an accurate census is necessary for both our democracy and our economy to function.

The Census Bureau, for its part, has not been especially forthcoming about issues with the 2020 data, though it noted in court proceedings that it missed a statutory deadline for initial counts because of persistent data irregularities. (The agency did not reply to requests for comment.) In a Senate questionnaire, Commerce Secretary nominee Gina Raimondo did not mention the census as among the "top three challenges facing" Commerce (which oversees the Census Bureau), but she is likely to field questions on the subject during her confirmation hearing Tuesday.

Congress and Raimondo, if confirmed, must take steps right away so the 2020 Census results are both trustworthy and actually trusted.

First, Congress must give the Census Bureau more time to get its calculations right - moving back the statutory deadline so the agency can locate problems and fix them, including by cross-checking survey responses against more federal and state administrative records. The bureau also needs time to sort through some thorny privacy issues. These involve making sure that plans to disguise respondents' personal details do not inadvertently make the data useless to local policymakers.

Additionally, Congress should appropriate more money for the annual American Community Survey. With additional funding, this in-depth survey could sample more people, giving states and cities better information about constituents.

The Census Bureau should also expand the appeals process for states and localities to challenge results of the decennial census, if they seem awry.

Finally, the Census Bureau owes lawmakers and the public greater transparency about how much political interference was attempted in recent years, what guardrails could prevent similar problems in the future and what issues remain with the 2020 data.

To many Americans, census results may seem like background noise, unimportant numbers to be taken for granted. But if the past few years have taught us anything, it is that without deliberately investing in a common, trusted source of facts, democracy may not survive.

- - -

Catherine Rampell's email address is crampell@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter, @crampell.

Democrats need to use their power

By eugene robinson
Democrats need to use their power

EUGENE ROBINSON COLUMN

Advance for release Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, and thereafter

(For Robinson clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Eugene Robinson

WASHINGTON -- Democrats worked long and hard to win power. Now, for the good of the country and the world, they need to use it -- with determination and without fear.

Republican calls for President Joe Biden and the Democratic majorities in Congress to settle for half-measures in the name of "unity" would be laughable if they weren't so insulting. The GOP's definition of unity would require not doing anything the GOP opposes. To accept that would be a betrayal of the citizens who voted in record numbers -- some of them braving a deadly pandemic in the process -- to put the Democratic Party in charge.

A better way to seek unity is to vigorously pursue policies that have broad public support -- and that begins to clean up the shambles the Biden administration inherits. Democrats may have slim majorities, but they have been given a mandate to lead. They need to remember the past four years when Republicans controlled the White House and Senate. The GOP grandly pronounced that "elections have consequences" and treated the Democratic minority like a doormat.

I'm not advocating payback for payback's sake, tempting as that might be, but just being realistic. Look at where we are: More than 400,000 Americans have died from covid-19 - a higher number than any other nation. There has been such chaos in the rollout of lifesaving vaccines that the new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hasn't been able to find out how many doses are available or where they might be. We're in a "K-shaped" recovery from the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression. The wealthy are seeing their stock portfolios soar while the poor and working class face hunger and fear. Calls for a reckoning on racial justice have gone unanswered and there were ridiculous Trump-era energy policies that ignored the existential crisis of climate change.

So yes, President Biden, if Republicans won't help, you should continue to do as much as you can through executive action. And yes, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the Senate should be prepared to abolish the filibuster -- and should pull the trigger sooner rather than later if Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., continues to block the chamber from even getting organized to do its work.

Republicans have a choice. They can wail about the dangers of an "imperial" presidency and lavishly bemoan the abandonment of hallowed Senate tradition. Or they can face reality and work constructively with Democrats toward a national recovery, and give even the proposals they disagree with fair hearings and votes.

I haven't mentioned the coming impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump because it is a sideshow. While it's essential that the trial be held, and anyone who witnessed the seditious events of Jan. 6 knows he should be convicted and barred from ever again holding federal office, it's unlikely that 17 Republican senators will summon the integrity to do the right thing.

Instead, the trial will mostly serve as evidence of the party's weakness. The GOP could shake free of Trump's grip by confining him to private life, thus taking away his ability to raise money and maintain grass roots. Most Republican senators surely realize the opportunity before them -- but also fear Trump's wrath and that of the GOP base he transformed into a cult of personality. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., embodies this pathetic haplessness. He says a trial will be "like taking a bunch of gasoline and pouring it on top of the fire," ignoring that Trump, as arsonist in chief, lit the fire in the first place.

As Republicans refuse to even mount a struggle for the soul of their party, the country will need Democrats to take the helm and resolve our overlapping crises.

The most urgent matter of business is passing a new covid-19 relief package, providing desperately needed help for individuals, small businesses and state and local governments. Republicans who hardly batted an eye at Trump's free-spending ways, and who blew a huge hole in the budget with a massive tax cut for the wealthy, have suddenly -- and predictably -- rediscovered their deep concern about the national debt.

There is nothing sacrosanct about the $1.9 trillion figure the Biden administration has proposed, and there is always room for compromise on spending bills. But it is heartening that Democrats have thus far managed to refrain from negotiating with themselves -- and that Schumer has left open the possibility of passing the aid through the arcane process called "reconciliation," which requires only 51 votes.

GOP senators can have a voice in the outcome if they engage in good faith. But they have to realize that "compromise" doesn't mean "Republican win and Democrats lose." Not anymore.

- - -

Eugene Robinson is on Twitter: @Eugene_Robinson

The necessity of convicting Trump

By michael gerson
The necessity of convicting Trump

MICHAEL GERSON COLUMN

Advance for release Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, and thereafter

(For Gerson clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Michael Gerson

WASHINGTON -- As we move away from the events of Jan. 6, many elected Republicans seem to be settling on a strategy of collective amnesia. Some propose to forget the unpleasant past in the cause of national "healing." Others adduce a thin constitutional argument against the impeachment of a former president (a position that would effectively grant immunity from impeachment to every president during his last few months in office, when the opportunity to subvert an election is greatest).

This party-wide retreat from memory and accountability has been symbolized by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's ritual renunciation of his initial moral sanity. When the violence was fresh, he affirmed that President Donald Trump "bears responsibility for [the] attack on Congress by mob rioters." More recently, under political pressure, McCarthy claimed: "I don't believe he provoked it." In the process, a whole generation of idealistic young people has been given a reliable guide to public character: Don't be like this man.

The desire to erase the memory of unpleasant events is psychologically natural. But it would be disastrous in a democracy under continuing threat. The Capitol insurrection -- and the broader attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election -- lies like an undigested lump in the gut of our political system. How can we be asked to forget events that we haven't fully processed? The president of the United States, with the broad approval of GOP leaders, systematically attempted to invalidate millions of votes from disproportionately minority voters. When that effort failed, Trump invited a mob to Washington, whipped up its resentments, directed it toward Capitol Hill, urged it to intimidate legislators and disrupt a constitutional process, challenged it to "fight," and then refused to intervene while domestic terrorists hunted for Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the hallways of the Capitol.

Would Republican senators still want the country to put these events behind it if 20 Capitol Police officers had been beaten to death rather than one? If Pelosi had actually been zip-tied and held hostage? If Pence had been murdered? At what point would executive incitement of a violent mob to intimidate the legislative branch meet GOP senators' exacting standards for conviction? For what similar actions by a Democratic president would they allow bygones to be bygones?

The problem here is a general lack of Republican shame. In everyday life, shame is a generally unhealthy emotion. In a politician, it is irreplaceable. The possibility of political shame is required by the existence of political honor. Like those in the U.S. military, federal legislators pledge to protect and defend the Constitution. This transforms their job into a calling that involves the possibility of personal sacrifice.

Those politicians, such as Trump, who view the political enterprise as nothing more than a dirty game are quite literally shameless. Those such as McCarthy, who choose cowardice over sacrifice, are discrediting their calling.

But what of Republican members of the Senate impeachment jury? A couple -- namely Sen. Josh Hawley (Mo.) and Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) -- are partially responsible for provoking the rage that led to the sacking of the Capitol. Along with a few colleagues, they voted to accede to the demands of the mob, even after its violent attack. They are some of American history's most reckless violators of democratic honor. And they seem firmly attached to their ignominy.

Most Senate Republicans, however, voted against the mass disenfranchisement of minority voters. Yet they hesitate to extend Republican misery through a trial, claiming it would draw attention away from other urgent legislative matters.

A political case can be made that only Senate conviction would liberate the GOP from its Trump captivity. But the justifications run deeper. On the pages of newspapers and in dark corners of the Internet, a consensus is taking shape about the historical meaning of the Capitol assault. Violent radicals want to interpret it as the first shots -- the Lexington and Concord -- of a growing racist revolution, granted the legitimacy of sponsorship by the president of the United States. A Republican senator who votes against conviction of the president would feed this dangerous narrative and empower some of the most vicious and violent people in the United States. That would merit enough shame to define a political career.

The main reason we cannot throw this event down a memory hole is that the social threats that produced it are ongoing. If the Capitol attack is not fully and completely repudiated, then "January 6!" will be strengthened as a radical rallying cry. And an un-convicted Trump would do his best to ensure it. I suspect he is privately proud of the Bastille-storming performed in his honor.

By convicting Trump, Senate Republicans would be saying that the insurrection was something very different: the last gasp of a dying presidency, a uniformly condemned outbreak of hatred and an act of eternal dishonor.

- - -

Michael Gerson's email address is michaelgerson@washpost.com.

How Biden's executive order could reduce hunger today - and long after the pandemic is over

By catherine rampell
How Biden's executive order could reduce hunger today - and long after the pandemic is over

CATHERINE RAMPELL COLUMN

Advance for release Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, and thereafter

(For Rampell clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Catherine Rampell

Stories of deep, pervasive hunger have been among the more disturbing undercurrents of the past year. Food lines stretch for miles. About 29 million U.S. adults -- nearly 14% of the adult population -- said last month that their household sometimes or often didn't have enough to eat in the previous seven days, according to the Census Bureau's most recent Household Pulse Survey. The shares are even higher among Blacks, Latinos and households with children.

Congress has temporarily increased food assistance over the past year in response to the coronavirus pandemic, but the benefits are still not sufficient. Even with Congress's temporary increases, for example, the average food stamp recipient still receives only $2.30 per person, per meal, according to estimates from Dottie Rosenbaum, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. (Before the pandemic, the average benefit was closer to just $1.40 per person, per meal; without changes to law or administration policy, it would be slated to return to this level once the public health emergency ends.)

On Friday, however, President Joe Biden took some important steps toward relieving this hardship. As part of an executive order on economic relief, Biden set in motion three major changes to food assistance programs.

The first would increase food access for millions of children who have not gotten their usual free or reduced-price school meals because of school closures. Congress created a program last year that gave temporary emergency nutrition benefits to these low-income kids. Biden's order would increase the value of those food benefits by 15%. That would give a family with three children an additional $100 every two months, National Economic Council Director Brian Deese said at a White House briefing.

A second change would ask the Agriculture Department (USDA) to increase the value of food stamp allotments for the poorest families. The Trump administration had previously said these households, which represent about one-third of food stamp recipients, were not eligible for an "emergency" food stamp program Congress passed last spring. (Some states challenged this interpretation.) Exactly how long it will take to change this executive branch policy, and how much more money these households would get in food benefits, is still unclear. But it's likely that the poorest of the poor will get at least some additional food assistance in the days or months ahead.

Biden's third policy would almost certainly take longer to implement -- but would, of the three, ultimately be Biden's most significant and enduring change to the nutrition-related safety net: revamping the "Thrifty Food Plan," the core element of the food stamp program.

The Thrifty Food Plan is the USDA's estimate of a minimum, nutritionally sufficient diet and it's the basis for determining how much households get in food stamp benefits. The plan's cost has been fixed in inflation-adjusted terms since the 1970s. But nutrition advocates have argued for years that it does not reflect the full costs of a healthy diet, especially when taking into account the food preparation time required to keep within the plan's budget.

For example, the USDA assumes households purchase the lowest-cost raw ingredients available and prepare most meals from scratch -- for instance, that a poor family will forgo slightly more expensive canned beans in favor of dried ones, which then must be sorted, rinsed, soaked and then boiled. Food-stamp-eligible families do spend more time preparing their meals than households overall, but they still face much tighter time constraints than USDA estimates assume.

This is part of the reason why food stamp benefits remain insufficient and roughly half of all households that receive food stamps are still considered food insecure.

The 2018 farm bill instructed the Agriculture Department to reevaluate the Thrifty Food Plan by 2022. Biden's announcement appears to hasten that process. With a Democratic administration overseeing it, this redesign seems likely to lead to these benefits becoming more generous (and, hopefully, adequate) for struggling families in the years ahead.

"We cannot, will not let people go hungry," Biden said Friday about the immediate crisis. With any luck, that will be true even when this immediate crisis is over.

- - -

Catherine Rampell's email address is crampell@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter, @crampell.

It's time for major institutions to make their employees get off of Twitter

By megan mcardle
It's time for major institutions to make their employees get off of Twitter

MEGAN MCARDLE COLUMN

Advance for release Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, and thereafter

(For McArdle clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Megan McArdle

WASHINGTON -- Early Thursday morning, Will Wilkinson, the vice president for policy at the Niskanen Center, tweeted out an extraordinarily ill-advised joke: "If Biden really wanted unity," Wilkinson suggested, "he'd lynch Mike Pence."

By morning he had issued a handsome apology. By evening he was no longer the vice president for policy at the Niskanen Center.

Will is a friend, so naturally I'm dismayed by what happened. I'm also dismayed that it should have happened at Niskanen, a center-to-leftish institution I admire. And I'm even more worried to have yet another example of the damage Twitter is doing to American discourse -- damage so profound that I'm beginning to think that the only way to fix it is not to urge tolerance, but for major institutions in the media and think-tank world to tell their employees to get the hell off Twitter.

I realize that this seems a mite counterintuitive as a solution to the cancel culture. But cancel culture isn't the only problem with having public intellectuals increasingly communicating with each other in 280-character social media packets, though it is the most vivid.

Twitter's very format encourages the sort of thing that is likely to get one canceled: short and context-free, composed in an instant, posted without reflection. Moreover, that very speed and effortlessness make it easy to form -- or join -- a mob going after someone else's tweets. The result resembles the proverbial standoff where everyone has a loaded gun pointed at the head of someone else.

Ideally, everyone would simultaneously disarm, but no one trusts anyone else to do so. So instead, people try to make themselves safer through preemptive revenge. Or take refuge in communities of extremists who will at least protect them from anyone on the other side, no matter what they say, as long as it is sufficiently far left or right.

In exchange, of course, they demand that you smile tolerantly at the worst your own side can dish out. And that "worst" keeps getting worse because of a phenomenon well known to social scientists: When you sort people into ideological groups, the pressure of groupthink tends to push both the groups themselves, and the people within them, to become more extreme than they were before. Within each ideological space, there's tightening conformity to radical views; between them, growing interpersonal viciousness and a total lack of understanding.

This dynamic is obviously bad for the people who inadvertently blow themselves up in a few seconds of casual typing. But it's worse for the institutions they work for, which become hostage to the stupidest or most extreme thing any employees have said in their most thoughtless moments. They also suffer when angry employees turn internal fights over policy into ugly public spectacles. Such behavior has particularly plagued the media in recent years.

This is bad not just for these institutions, but the country. We in the media rue how so much of the right has closed itself off into bubbles that cannot be penetrated by facts or sources inconvenient to its ideology. We have talked much less about how our own behavior contributes to this phenomenon, particularly on social media.

I wouldn't trust anyone who talked about me and my friends with the arrogant contempt that I routinely see emanating from journalists and academics on Twitter; we shouldn't be surprised that conservatives don't, either. Especially as they watch institutions be forced by Twitter mobs to hew to an ever-narrower ideological line.

These costs of tweeting aren't balanced by the benefits, and at this point the majority of Twitter users I know seem to agree. They hate what Twitter does to their organizations and friends, they hate the pervasive fear, they even hate how much time they waste that could have been spent on better work. But they're addicted to the attention, or fear ceding mindshare to people who are willing to stay in the fray. And so they're all stuck in a destructive, yet unfortunately stable, equilibrium.

I'm just as guilty as anyone, and I can see how this might sound like me asking my boss to fire my dealer, because I don't have the fortitude to quit. But this is really a collective action problem: People feel they have to stay on because others do, and others are on for the same reason. Collective action problems can generally be solved only institutionally, which is why I think the big media outlets and the major think tanks should tell their employees to read Twitter all they like, but not to post anything more controversial than baby pictures or recipes for cornbread. Those who are lucky enough to have reputations big enough to lose -- or to work for organizations that do -- will be better off if they take their voices back inside the institutions that were designed to amplify their best work, rather than their worst moments. But only if they make that journey together.

- - -

Follow Megan McArdle on Twitter, @asymmetricinfo.

The Biden administration's Saudi problem

By david ignatius
The Biden administration's Saudi problem

DAVID IGNATIUS COLUMN

Advance for release Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, and thereafter

(For Ignatius clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By David Ignatius

WASHINGTON -- As the Biden administration seeks a better pathway in the U.S.-Saudi relationship, one obstacle is the case of two young Saudis imprisoned by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to pressure their father, a former top Saudi intelligence official.

Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, has been trying to force the former intelligence official, Saad Aljabri, to return to the kingdom from Toronto, where he has been living in exile. Two of his children, Omar and Sarah Aljabri, 22 and 20, were arrested and imprisoned last March. Saad Aljabri's eldest son Khalid, a cardiologist who lives with his father in exile, said they are being used as "political hostages" to secure the former official's return.

With the transition to a new administration, Khalid Aljabri argued in an email to me, securing his siblings' freedom "will be the U.S.'s most accurate litmus test for their ability to influence and alter the behavior of MBS."

Despite then-President Donald Trump's strong support for MBS, the State Department said in August that pressuring the Aljabri children was "unacceptable" and urged their immediate release, according to a letter provided by the Aljabri family. The letter said that any Saudi allegations against Aljabri "should be addressed through established legal channels with full transparency."

The sensitive case now falls to the Biden administration, which wants to maintain the U.S. security partnership with Saudi Arabia but also seeks a "reassessment" that puts greater emphasis on human rights issues.

"The State Department will continue to make clear to Saudi authorities that any prosecution of Aljabri's family is unacceptable," a senior State Department official told me Sunday. "Similarly, we are concerned by the circumstances that led to [Saad Aljabri's] exile in Canada. We will continue to raise these concerns with senior Saudi officials."

The Biden administration is deeply troubled by the case and wants to send that message to the Saudis. Because the prosecution of Aljabri's children began long before the election, officials don't see it as a direct challenge to Biden. But as they review the totality of the U.S.-Saudi relationship, officials will be looking closely at Riyadh's human rights record and any steps it takes in the right direction.

The Aljabri case darkened in recent weeks; Omar and Sarah were convicted in a secret trial in November for allegedly laundering money and plotting to escape the kingdom, and sentenced to nine and 6 ½ years in prison, according to Khalid Aljabri. He said the Saudi charge was false, because it treated his siblings' normal living allowances while minors as something improper, and he noted the supposed escape plan came while the country's borders were closed because of covid-19.

Khalid Aljabri also said the Saudi prosecutor didn't present any direct evidence that his siblings had committed these crimes, and that the lawyer hired to represent them wasn't allowed to meet with his clients at their undisclosed detention sites.

Last week, the case disappeared from the official online registry of Saudi criminal cases, but the family wasn't sure what this signaled.

One reason U.S. officials, through two administrations, have been so concerned about the case is that Saad Aljabri was a key partner for the CIA in its counterterrorism efforts against al-Qaida. A July 2020 letter to Trump from a bipartisan group of four senators noted that Aljabri "has been credited by former CIA officials for saving thousands of American lives by discovering and preventing terrorist plots."

The senators stressed: "We believe the U.S. has a moral obligation to do what it can to assist in securing his children's release."

The Aljabri children were among MBS's first targets when he seized power on June 21, 2017, deposing Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who had been Saad Aljabri's patron. The children were stopped at the Riyadh airport that day. Sarah, then 17, was prevented from leaving the country; her brother Omar, then 18, refused to depart without her. The two were on their way to school in the United States, where their father was then living.

Saad Aljabri pleaded with MBS to lift the travel ban. The crown prince didn't respond at first, but he messaged Aljabri in September 2017: "I want to resolve this problem of your son and daughter, but this is a very sensitive file here," according to a translation provided by the family. Aljabri took that as a reference to the former crown prince, whom MBS has accused of conspiring with Aljabri to skim money from secret intelligence funds. Aljabri and Mohammed bin Nayef have denied the charges through their lawyers.

When Aljabri balked at MBS's request for cooperation in the September 2017 exchange, the crown prince warned that he would seek Aljabri's arrest through an Interpol warrant or "other means that would be harmful to you," according to correspondence provided by the family.

Former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney offered to mediate in November 2017 and visited the White House to discuss the case with Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, according to Khalid Aljabri. He said that Kushner responded, through Mulroney: "It is a toxic situation, everyone has so much on the other."

The Saudi government went ahead with its request for an Interpol warrant for Aljabri, alleging corruption. But an Interpol commission rejected the request in July 2018. The commission noted in its ruling that "unjustified restrictive measures on his family suggest that the case is politically motivated rather than strictly juridical."

Saad Aljabri sued MBS in August 2020 in federal district court in Washington, hoping to force a judicial resolution of the case or a settlement negotiation. The day the suit was filed, the Trump State Department sent its extraordinary letter of support for Aljabri, calling him "a valued partner to the U.S. government, working closely with us to ensure the safety of Americans." The letter argued that "any persecution of . . . Aljabri's family members is unacceptable."

The Biden administration wants to maintain a strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia, just as the Trump administration did. But any reset should address the broad bipartisan concern in Washington about Saudi human rights abuses. The bogus case against Aljabri's children would be a good place to start.

- - -

Contact David Ignatius on Twitter @IgnatiusPost

The sharpest pens in the industry serve up points of view to chew on.

Bury your dead-tired strips and grab something fresh, meaningful and hilarious.

Serious therapy and serious fun to give readers a break from breaking news.