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Reports: CIA Concludes Saudi Crown Prince Ordered Killing Of Jamal Khashoggi


We're going to start the program with news about the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. According to several news outlets, the CIA has concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi's killing. That's according to unnamed sources. The CIA declined to comment to NPR, and Saudi officials have denied that the crown prince had anything to do with Khashoggi's death.

To understand what these latest revelations could mean for U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia, we've called up Congressman Eric Swalwell. He's a Democrat representing California's 15th Congressional District. He's a member of the House Intelligence Committee and the ranking Democrat on the CIA subcommittee, and he joins me now by phone.

Welcome, Congressman.

ERIC SWALWELL: Thank you for having me on.

SINGH: Well, Congressman Swalwell, all of this reporting is according to unnamed officials. Since you sit on the House Intelligence Committee, I have to ask - have you been briefed by the CIA on this latest development?

SWALWELL: I've been briefed on the Khashoggi incident. I can't say much more. I'm awaiting an update when Congress returns after the Thanksgiving holiday. But, you know, I'll say this - you don't have to have an intelligence background to know that the way that the Saudi kingdom works is that nothing happens without, you know, approval from the crown prince or the king. And, the way that this assassination was conducted, it very much seems like there was involvement.

And I think what the Trump administration should do because this is a U.S. resident working for a U.S. publication killed on a NATO ally's soil, you know, we need to be straight with the Saudis about, you know, them coming clean and making sure that they understand that there's going to be serious consequences if this was ordered from the very top.

SINGH: Well, in fact, a couple of days ago, the Trump administration leveled sanctions against 17 Saudi officials. What other levers of power does Congress have to respond to Khashoggi's death?

SWALWELL: Well, I think what we should do is immediately suspend any arms sales to the Saudis until an objective, independent investigation is conducted. I also, you know, believe that we need to see reforms within the kingdom to make sure that something like this - it does not happen again. And, you know, what concerns me is that I think the president in the way that he talks about the press and the way that just some of the actions he's taken himself - we've seen leaders across the world emboldened to take acts like this. In the president's first two years, you've seen extrajudicial killings by the North Koreans, by the Russians in Great Britain and now by the Saudis in Turkey. And I think the absence of American leadership allows this to persist.

SINGH: The Trump administration has advocated that a strong relationship with the Saudis is, in fact, beneficial to the United States, to this country. Just this morning, following this news, President Trump spoke before boarding Marine One. Here's what he said.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You know, we also have a great ally in Saudi Arabia. They give us a lot of jobs. They give us a lot of business, a lot of economic development. They are - they have been a truly spectacular ally in terms of jobs and economic development.

SINGH: So, objectively speaking, he's not wrong.

SWALWELL: Well, they certainly have invested in, you know, arms purchases that support U.S. jobs. But I don't think we look the other way and are bought off, you know, when a country commits human rights violations because it means jobs. We have been traditionally the moral leader in the world, and the world is safer, and we are safer at home when that's the case. And I don't want to see, you know, American morals for sale. And so we need to be honest with the Saudis about what this means if the crown prince ordered this assassination.

SINGH: I'm curious - congressman, why do you think that the president continues to tiptoe around this?

SWALWELL: I think the president, just like he tiptoes around Russia's interference in our election, the reason he tiptoes around China - he eased sanctions against a Chinese company the same week that they lended (ph) him or lended a Trump Tower property $500 million - is because he's got conflicting financial interests. And we're going to see in this new Congress his tax returns - not because we haven't voyeuristic interest in where he is invested but because, for our national security, we need to know where he has conflicts of interest so that we can interdict or intervene.

SINGH: Congressman Eric Swalwell of California. He sits on the House Intelligence Committee.

Thank you very much for your time, sir.

SWALWELL: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.