The Trump administration has slapped sanctions on a senior aide to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and 16 others in connection to the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The Treasury Department announced the penalties Thursday morning, just a few hours after the Saudi government announced it would seek the death penalty for five of 11 individuals indicted there over the luring of Khashoggi to a diplomatic facility in Turkey that ended with him being killed in a violent confrontation.
The move is a rare public penalty of such a close ally and reflects the tightrope the administration has walked in recent weeks as it tries to keep Saudi Arabia close while appearing to punish those responsible — and warn Salman against such operations in the future.
“These individuals who targeted and brutally killed a journalist who resided and worked in the United States must face consequences for their actions,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in a statement.
“The United States continues to diligently work to ascertain all of the facts and will hold accountable each of those we find responsible in order to achieve justice for Khashoggi’s fiancée, children, and the family he leaves behind,” Mnuchin said. “The Government of Saudi Arabia must take appropriate steps to end any targeting of political dissidents or journalists.”
Senate anger over Saudi Arabia’s role in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi could also turn into concrete action today, as Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., secured a floor vote on a joint resolution that would indirectly punish the kingdom.
The measure would prevent a proposed weapons sale to Bahrain, a close ally of Saudi Arabia that is participating in the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen.
It’s not clear if Paul has the votes to defeat the $300 million arms sale. Paul said the resolution would be an “indirect” vote on the Yemeni war.
In a Statement of Administration Policy released Thursday, the White House threatened a veto of the joint resolution.
“Apart from negatively impacting our bilateral relationship with the Kingdom of Bahrain, the joint resolution would hamper our ability to build and maintain security cooperation relationships, and sustain our pressure campaign against al-Qa’ida and ISIS,” the SAP said.
President Donald Trump has called the Saudi Khashoggi operation the “worst cover-up in history” while trying to maintain relations with the key U.S. ally in the Middle East and make clear his administration would punish those involved.
Trump is eager to keep the crown prince and other top Saudi officials close since the kingdom is key to his top Middle East policy goal: Countering and weakening Iran. He also wants to keep the Saudis as a top buyer of American military equipment, which he contends — with inflated statistics — create and maintain jobs at home.
“Whoever thought of that idea, I think is in big trouble,” Trump said Oct. 24. “And they should be in big trouble.”
Rachel Oswald contributed to this report.