Accompanying the public release of the ODNI report which finds that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) "approved" of the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which was based mostly on a prior CIA investigation into the death, the US announced sanctions on multiple individuals identified in the report but stopped short slapping MbS himself with penalties.
Among these is Ahmad Hassan Mohammed al Asiri, former deputy head of Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Presidency, who the US Treasury sanctioned for being the top level operative charged with carrying out Khashoggi's assassination at the consul in Istanbul.
Also, 76 Saudis were hit with what's been dubbed the "Khashoggi Ban" (on travel) which targets those engaged in "extraterritorial counter-dissident activities" which seek violence or intimidation of overseas dissidents "including but not limited to the Khashoggi killing." A number of these were actually part of MbS' "elite" private security detail which "answers only to him" - as the report reads.
As we detailed Friday, the kingdom has formally rejected the US intelligence report's findings, saying through official SPA:
The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs states that the Kingdom’s government completely rejects what was stated in the U.S. report provided to Congress on the crime of killing citizen Jamal Khashoggi.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia "categorically rejects the abusive and incorrect conclusions" the official said. "The concerned individuals were convicted and sentenced by the courts in the Kingdom, and these sentences were welcomed by the family of Jamal Khashoggi, may he Rest In Peace," it added.
Meanwhile there's growing criticism even from within Biden's own party leadership in Congress that the president is being no different from Trump in giving MbS a free pass.
There’s an emerging view that Biden is doing the same thing as Trump—that while the words are different, MBS is still getting a pass in the end. @jaketapper is right about that. At the same time, Biden ended Trump’s policy of boosting the Saudis with arms sales & support in Yemen https://t.co/lCBn2c043p— Andrew Desiderio (@AndrewDesiderio) February 26, 2021
In particular Adam Schiff, the Democrat Chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, is demanding no less than the following severe action:
"The President should not meet with the Crown Prince, or talk with him, and the Administration should consider sanctions on assets in the Saudi Public Investment Fund he controls that have any link to the crime."
Here's Schiff's full statement...
Biden getting lots of pushback now— Andrew Desiderio (@AndrewDesiderio) February 26, 2021
Schiff: “The Biden Administration should explore ways to ensure the repercussions for the brutal murder of Mr. Khashoggi go beyond those who carried it out, to the one who ordered it — the Crown Prince himself. He has blood on his hands...” pic.twitter.com/dUytiu8uYZ
There's further growing pushback in the mainstream media, surprisingly, that Biden is ready to essentially "let the murderer walk":
Correct:— Hassan Hassan (@hxhassan) February 27, 2021
"Instead of imposing sanctions on M.B.S., Biden appears ready to let the murderer walk. The weak message to other thuggish dictators considering such a murder is: Please don’t do it, but we’ll still work with you if we have to."
Despite Biden's recent and past rhetoric of 'getting tough' on the Saudis, presumably intended as opposite Trump's policy of essentially shielding Riyadh, the "punishment" on MbS will likely now go no further than the public and international humiliation of being named in the ODNI report.
And it won't take long for things to return to "business as usual" - including more billions in weapons sales - between the US and the kingdom.