Senators Threaten Saudi Sanctions After Trump Misses Deadline

(Bloomberg) -- A group of senators from both parties are threatening to sanction Saudi Arabia over the killing of a U.S.-based journalist after a briefing by Trump administration officials failed to quell their concerns.

"The Senate is going to have to decide whether to impose its own sanctions," Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida after the briefing Monday for members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the administration’s response to a request that President Donald Trump order a full investigation of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi’s death.

Senators Threaten Saudi Sanctions After Trump Misses Deadline

Democratic Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey said after Monday’s briefing that sanctions “should be levied.”

Foreign Relations Chairman Jim Risch didn’t call for sanctions, but said lawmakers would be discussing what to do next. "This is a work in progress, and we will not let it go,” the Idaho senator said in a statement.

The lawmakers sought the briefing after the Trump administration didn’t make a determination by a Feb. 8 legal deadline to report to Congress whether the Saudi government was responsible for Khashoggi’s killing. The missed deadline prompted criticism from Republicans and Democrats.

In October, the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker of Tennessee, and Menendez, the top Democrat on the panel, sent a letter to the administration invoking the Magnitsky Act of 2016 to demand an investigation of Khashoggi’s death and determine whether new sanctions should be imposed on Saudi Arabia.

No Determination

Instead of a determination under the act, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo sent a letter last month describing “ongoing efforts to seek justice” in the case. The letter prompted Risch to seek Monday’s briefing, which was delivered by Manisha Singh, acting undersecretary of state for economic growth, energy and the environment, and Andrea Gacki, director of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.

Senators Threaten Saudi Sanctions After Trump Misses Deadline

Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, called the briefing “a complete waste of time.” He added, "We are going to get with our members and find a way to push the system.”

Senator Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, said senators are discussing "if the president is not going to act, then should we as a Senate act."

"There is a whole spectrum of possible actions, that could involve different types of sanctions, changes in policy regarding support that has been provided," Merkley said.

Senators Threaten Saudi Sanctions After Trump Misses Deadline

Khashoggi, who had criticized Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for his style of governance, entered the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 but never left. Prince Mohammed was called “the chief suspect” in the killing by Turkish officials. Top U.S. senators who have been briefed by American intelligence officials have said they’re certain the crown prince directed Khashoggi’s killing and dismemberment.

The Trump administration in November imposed sanctions on 17 Saudi individuals over the killing, but not on Prince Mohammed. Trump has sought to emphasize the importance of the U.S. alliance with Saudi Arabia while questioning whether Prince Mohammed ordered Khashoggi killed. “Maybe he did, and maybe he didn’t,” Trump said in a statement in November.

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