Bipartisan Senate Intel leaders push to declassify Khashoggi report
The bipartisan leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee are pushing the intelligence community to declassify information about the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi after receiving a classified report on the issue.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) confirmed to reporters Tuesday that he and committee ranking member Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) sent a letter to acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell urging in him to declassify information on Saudi Arabia’s killing of U.S.-based journalist Khashoggi.
The Washington Post first reported the existence of the letter. Officials for Burr and Warner would not provide a copy of the letter to The Hill, with Burr’s aide saying they do not release “committee sensitive materials.”
Burr and Warner’s letter comes after House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) sent Grenell a similar request.
The letter also comes as Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) on Tuesday reupped his threat to invoke a rarely-used rule of the Senate Intelligence Committee to force the release of information.
Burr described his and Warner’s letter as a “last effort to try to jog it before” Wyden tries to force the issue, something Burr said he would not support.
At issue is a requirement in last year’s defense policy bill that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) give Congress an unclassified report on who ordered and helped in killing Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in 2018.
ODNI sent Congress a classified annex on the issue last month, which Schiff argued in his letter could be declassified “with appropriate redactions” to comply with the defense bill.
The CIA has reportedly concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing, but Saudi officials have denied that the prince had any knowledge of the plot.
The Trump administration has been reluctant to publicly blame high-level Saudi officials for Khashoggi’s murder, with President Trump defending the U.S. relationship with Riyadh as necessary to counter Iran and bolster the U.S. economy with arm sales.
In a news conference Tuesday, Wyden accused the Trump administration of engaging in a “total and complete cover up” by classifying the report.
Wyden vowed to move forward with a procedure in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s rules that allows the panel to vote to release classified information it possesses.
A section of the resolution that established the Intelligence Committee lays out a process for the panel to release information it has in its possession if it believes doing so is in the public interest.
First, the committee would vote to release the information. The president would then have five days to object. If he does, the committee can then vote to refer the issue to the full Senate, which would then have to vote to release the information for it to become public.
“The Senate has never seen it all the way through before,” Wyden said. “This is a historical step because I am prepared to take it all the way through.”
Wyden acknowledged Burr and Warner’s letter, but indicated he wanted to go further than the committee leaders.
Burr and Warner’s letter was “calling for more information to be declassified. I think that’s fine,” Wyden said. But, he added, “that’s not what the law requires. The law requires something else, which is public disclosure and declassification of those items that I walked through.”
Wyden added that he’ll work with the committee on scheduling his plan, but stressed that he is “very much committed to going the distance.”
Jordain Carney contributed.