White House defends not sanctioning Saudi crown prince over Khashoggi

White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiThe Memo: DeSantis-Biden sniping underscores COVID-19 frustration DeSantis hits back at Biden criticism: 'Why don't you do your job?' Biden called Shontel Brown to congratulate her after Ohio primary win MORE on Monday defended the Biden administration’s decision not to penalize Saudi Arabia's crown prince in connection with the murder of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Psaki described the sanctions announced last week against Saudi Arabia’s rapid intervention force and a former intelligence official as “a series of strong steps” the administration believes will prevent such a crime from happening again. The administration did not impose penalties on Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, despite a U.S. intelligence report implicating him in the killing.

“This is a crucial step because it structurally addresses an unacceptable pattern of targeting, monitoring, harassment and threats to dissidents and journalists,” Psaki told reporters at a briefing Monday afternoon. “Our national security team believes this going after the network responsible for these actions is the best way to prevent a crime like this from ever happening again.”

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While she would not rule out sanctions against the Saudi crown prince in the future, Psaki noted that the United States does not typically sanction leaders of countries with whom it maintains diplomatic relations. 

She said that officials have also made clear that the U.S. plans to “recalibrate” the relationship with Saudi Arabia, including by changing how Biden communicates with its leaders and by ending support for Saudi-led offensive operations in Yemen.  

“We are going to hold them accountable. We are going to take steps. We are not going to hold back on making clear where actions are unacceptable, where there needs to be a change and reforms put in place, while also recognizing that there are areas we need to continue to work together on because they’re in the interest of the United States and our own security,” Psaki said.

The Biden administration on Friday announced sanctions against a former deputy Saudi intelligence leader, Ahmad Hassan Mohammed al Asiri, and Saudi Arabia’s rapid intervention force in connection with Khashoggi’s murder in 2018. The administration also announced visa restrictions against 76 Saudi citizens. The moves came shortly after the release of a declassified intelligence report that said the crown prince approved the plot to “capture and kill” Khashoggi in Turkey.

Biden has faced calls to impose penalties on the crown prince, however, given his involvement in the murder.

"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,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffA new kind of hero? Last week's emotional TV may be a sign Officers offer harrowing accounts at first Jan. 6 committee hearing Live coverage: House panel holds first hearing on Jan. 6 probe MORE (D-Calif.) said in a statement Friday.

“He has blood on his hands and that blood belonged to an American resident and journalist. 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,” Schiff said.