The Democrat representing the Saudi journalist who went missing in Turkey last week urged President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump goes after Cassidy after saying he wouldn't support him for president in 2024 Jan. 6 panel lays out criminal contempt case against Bannon Hillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — Agencies sound alarm over ransomware targeting agriculture groups MORE and State Secretary Mike PompeoMike PompeoState Department watchdog probing whether Trump aides took gifts meant for foreign officials Biden shows little progress with Abraham Accords on first anniversary Biden slips further back to failed China policies MORE to get tougher on Riyadh amid the ongoing search for Jamal Khashoggi.
Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyBiden struggles to rein in Saudi Arabia amid human rights concerns Trump company in late-stage talks to sell DC hotel: report Trump Hotel lost more than M during presidency, say documents MORE (D), who represents the northern Virginia district where Khashoggi was living in exile, said the administration’s push for Saudi officials to investigate an alleged crime they’re accused of masterminding risks letting the fox guard the henhouse.
“If the Saudis are responsible for the crime, you don’t ask the criminal to investigate himself,” Connolly said during a press conference outside The Washington Post offices in D.C., where Khashoggi wrote as a columnist.
“There has to be an independent international investigation so we can get to the bottom of what happened,” he added. “We will not rest until that happens.”
Khashoggi, a frequent critic of the Saudi government, disappeared Oct. 2 in Istanbul after entering a Saudi consulate there to obtain documents for his upcoming wedding.
Turkish authorities say they have evidence that Khashoggi was killed, and perhaps dismembered, inside the compound by Saudi nationals acting on orders from top government officials, according to multiple reports.
Saudi leaders deny any crime occurred, contending Khashoggi left the consulate unharmed but not providing evidence of his exit.
Pompeo issued a short statement on Monday, citing “conflicting reports on the safety and whereabouts” of Khashoggi and urging Saudi leaders to cooperate in an investigation.
Several senior administration officials — including Pompeo, National security adviser John Bolton and Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerHillicon Valley — Presented by LookingGlass — Hackers are making big money Kushner associate pardoned by Trump in plea discussions over cyberstalking charges Biden has an opportunity to put his own stamp on Arab-Israeli relations MORE, senior advisor to the president — all spoke directly with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman about the disappearance Tuesday, according to the White House.
That same day, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert clarified that the administration requested that Saudi officials “conduct a thorough and transparent investigation.”
The communications have done nothing to satisfy Khashoggi’s supporters, who want the administration to get more aggressive with Saudi leaders. Connolly characterized Pompeo’s statement as “the weakest of responses.”
“The reports surrounding Jamal’s disappearance, if corroborated, would represent a new low on the part of a sovereign state in another sovereign state turning a consulate into an abattoir,” he said. “Sovereign territories in another country have diplomatic immunity so that business can be undertaken, not that crime can be committed.
“If the Saudis are complicit in this alleged crime,” he continued, “they’re the wrong party to investigate.”
Trump on Wednesday addressed Khashoggi’s disappearance, saying he’s spoken multiple times with top Saudi officials about “a very bad situation.”
"We cannot let this happen — to reporters, to anybody," he said from the Oval Office.
The escalating saga is testing the close ties between the United States and Saudi Arabia, as numerous lawmakers in both parties — many already up in arms over Saudi military operations in Yemen — amplify their criticisms of the country’s leaders amid the search for Khashoggi.
Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulVaccine 'resisters' are a real problem Democrats fret as longshot candidates pull money, attention Journalist Dave Levinthal discusses 'uptick' in congressional stock trade violations MORE (R-Ky.) this week threatened to force votes blocking any new weapon sales to the Kingdom if the reports of foul play ring true.
"If they're responsible or even if there's any indication that they're implicated in killing this journalist that was critical of them, we've got to stop sending them arms," Paul said.
Thomas Melia, who was deputy assistant secretary of State for democracy and human rights under President Obama, said the administration has plenty of tools at its disposal to get to the bottom of the Khashoggi mystery.
“The State Department and the U.S. government have access to a lot of information, and it needs to use its access and its contacts in Saudi Arabia to get answers immediately,” Melia, now the Washington Director at PEN America, said during Wednesday’s briefing outside The Washington Post.
“If we can’t get a straight answer out of the Saudis on this, we have no relationship that’s worth speaking of.”
Connolly, for his part, rejected the notion that the administration should go soft on the Saudis for the sake of preserving relations with a nation representing almost 10 percent of U.S. petroleum imports. The Declaration of Independence guarantees life and liberty, Connolly noted.
“I don’t remember the words ‘oil dependency’ in that declaration,” he said.