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Biden meekly gives Saudi crown prince 'one free murder' pass on Khashoggi

Biden meekly gives Saudi crown prince 'one free murder' pass on Khashoggi
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In 2019, then-presidential candidate Joe Biden said this: "Jamal Khashoggi was, in fact, murdered and dismembered, and I believe on the order of the crown prince. And I would make it very clear we were not going to, in fact, sell more weapons to them, we were going to, in fact, make them pay the price and make them, in fact, the pariah that they are. There's very little social redeeming value of the — in the present government in Saudi Arabia ... they have to be held accountable." 

Fast forward to late February 2021, when the Biden administration released an intelligence report on the matter. It declared that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the brutal assassination of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. 

But, as we've seen at an alarming rate during his first five weeks in office, Candidate Biden and President BidenJoe BidenFour members of Sikh community among victims in Indianapolis shooting Overnight Health: NIH reverses Trump's ban on fetal tissue research | Biden investing .7B to fight virus variants | CDC panel to meet again Friday on J&J On The Money: Moderates' 0B infrastructure bill is a tough sell with Democrats | Justice Dept. sues Trump ally Roger Stone for unpaid taxes MORE might as well be long-lost brothers, as the candidate's words increasingly are at odds with the president's deeds.

Biden was going to be nice to the press, we were told. No mean tweets or over-the-top rhetoric about the press being the enemy of the people, like his predecessor regularly proclaimed. Instead, Biden would be a return to the Obama-Biden days — which were worse for the press than the Trump years, but more on that later.

According to a New York Times report on Friday, Team Biden decided that, when push came to shove, there would no price for the Saudis to pay, as Biden had promised; no accountability for the pariah in any meaningful capacity. "A consensus developed inside the White House that the price of that breach, in Saudi cooperation on counterterrorism and in confronting Iran, was simply too high," the Times report reads.

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This sentiment was echoed by White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiBiden, Japan's PM focus on China, North Korea in first bilateral meeting Castro confirms he's stepping down as Cuban leader White House reverses course on refugee cap after Democratic eruption MORE, who word-saladed the administration's position by saying the administration will keep accountability as an "option" down the road, just in case the Saudi prince, commonly known as MBS, decides to whack another journalist who is critical of him.  

"Our administration is focused on recalibrating the relationship," Psaki said. "And certainly there are areas where we will express concerns and leave open the option of accountability." 

This posture towards the Saudis was rightly not embraced by Washington Post publisher Fred Ryan, who ripped the president for breaking a major campaign promise, while mocking Psaki for her "recalibrating" comment. "The man whom Biden described as a 'pariah' is about to escape personal liability for a murder he ordered as we offer diplomatic-speak about 'recalibration' rather than insist on accountability," Ryan added. "It appears as though under the Biden administration, despots who offer momentarily strategic value to the United States might be given a 'one free murder' pass." 

For those who covered the Obama-Biden administration, this limp response by Team Biden in not supporting a murdered member of the press is somewhat expected. After all, it was the Obama Justice Department under Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderHolder, Yates lead letter backing Biden pick for Civil Rights Division at DOJ Senate panel dukes it out over voting rights Progressive groups announce M voting rights effort MORE that spied on James Rosen, then a Fox News correspondent covering the State Department.  

In Rosen's case, the Obama Justice Department not only spied on him and his parents but also labeled him a "criminal co-conspirator and a flight risk" in order to gain access to his phone records and emails under the 1917 Espionage Act. Holder would later express regret for his actions regarding Rosen, stating it was the thing he regretted most about his tenure as attorney general. 

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The Obama administration also secretly seized phone records of reporters at the Associated Press, which the news organization called "serious interference with AP's constitutional rights to gather and report the news." And it rejected more Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests than any previous administration.  

By the way, President Biden still has not held a full-blown press conference, where he just might be asked about all the executive orders and actions he has signed in his first month, despite declaring as a candidate that such things were reserved for dictators. Or why he opened child migrant facilities ("kids in cages" and "kids in containers") that he swore he never would allow. Or why he – with the stroke of a pen on one of those 34 executive orders – put thousands of workers out of a job by effectively ending any more construction of the Keystone Pipeline. 

On the press conference front, it should be noted that Trump already had held one by this point in his presidency. So had Obama. And Bush. And Clinton. All of those presidents also addressed a joint session of Congress shortly after taking office. No word on when House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBiden angers Democrats by keeping Trump-era refugee cap Democratic Rep. Mondaire Jones calls on Breyer to retire Biden rebuffs Democrats, keeps refugee admissions at 15,000 MORE (D-Calif.) and the president plan on doing that, with no excuse given as to why there’s been a delay. 

"President Biden is facing his first major test of a campaign promise and, it appears, he’s about to fail it," the Post's Ryan wrote.

Biden has actually failed several, however — all while not supporting the press when it counts most, and largely avoiding the media in the process. 

Words matter. Deeds matter much more. 

Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist for The Hill.