IT HAS been a month since the Trump administration flouted a legal requirement to report to the Senate on the responsibility of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Rather than comply with the law, on Monday it dispatched midlevel officials from the State and Treasury departments to obfuscate before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. They provided no new information about the killing and would not say when or whether the White House would issue a finding on the crown prince. Reactions from senators, including Republicans, were scathing: “Worthless,” was the summary of Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.).
The bipartisan outrage is justified. In his zeal to cover for Mohammed bin Salman, who the CIA concluded ordered Khashoggi’s murder, President Trump is defying Congress’s authority under the Global Magnitsky Act, which provides for U.S. action in cases of gross human rights abuses. The law allows legislators to require a finding by the president in specific cases; that provision was invoked last year by then-Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and ranking Democrat Robert Menendez (N.J.), who asked for a determination of Mohammed bin Salman’s responsibility. The Senate’s view is already clear: It unanimously approved a resolution in December holding the crown prince responsible.
Now the question is whether the Senate will act to uphold its authority under the law and prevent the Saudi ruler from escaping accountability for the gruesome murder and dismemberment of a journalist who was a Virginia resident and a contributor to The Post. Not only the question of justice for Khashoggi is at issue: The crime is part of a pattern of reckless and destructive behavior by Mohammed bin Salman that ranges from the bombing of civilians in Yemen to the imprisonment and torture of a number of Saudi female activists, as well as a U.S. citizen.
Several pieces of legislation addressing the Yemen war or the Khashoggi case are pending in the Senate and House. But the broadest and most useful vehicle may be a bill sponsored by Mr. Menendez and six other senators, including Mr. Graham and two other Republicans. It would mandate sanctions on any Saudi official or member of the royal family who was “responsible for, or complicit in . . . acts contributing to or causing the death of Jamal Khashoggi,” a catchall from which the crown prince could not be easily excluded. It would also address the Yemen war by restricting sales of U.S. weapons, banning refueling of Saudi planes and imposing sanctions on those who interfere with the delivery of humanitarian aid.
There appears to be broad bipartisan support for congressional action on Saudi Arabia. Mr. Menendez points out that based on its sponsorship alone, his measure could win the approval of the Foreign Relations Committee if its new chairman, Sen. James E. Risch (R-Idaho), allows a vote. At a hearing Wednesday, Mr. Risch expressed unease at Saudi human rights violations, saying, “We cannot look the other way.” If he means that, he should schedule action on the Saudi Arabia Accountability and Yemen bill.