Last night, the Washington Post’s Shane Harris broke a blockbuster scoop. The Trump administration and the Saudis are “searching for a mutually agreeable explanation” — i.e., a lie — for the apparent murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi “that will avoid implicating Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.”
The fact that the administration is conspiring in the dissemination of a lie has all kinds of implications. One of them is likely the violation of normal policy making — after all, the United States government has a foreign policy and intelligence bureaucracy designed to produce factual analyses, so burying the correct conclusions in order to produce fabricated ones is probably going to entail some shenanigans, if not outright illegality. Another Washington Post story reports that, according to Senator Bob Corker, the administration has “clamped down” on sharing intelligence with Congress, and that a scheduled briefing on the matter had been cancelled. Corker called these moves “disappointing.”
Well, yes, they are disappointing. But Corker is not some man on the street offering his opinions on the issue. He’s the Foreign Relations Committee chairman of the U.S. Senate, which is part of a co-equal branch of government. If the administration cancels a briefing, Corker has more powerful recourse than expressing his disappointment to the Post. He can schedule a hearing. He can issue subpoenas. Corker has not so much rejected these options as treated them as unimaginable.
The saga of Khashoggi’s apparent murder touches on the U.S.’s relationship with a gulf kingdom whose value has gone unscrutinized for a long time, and on Trump’s evident lack of any public ethics whatsoever. But it is also a story about the Republican Congress’s refusal to conduct oversight — a refusal embedded so deeply in the party’s mind that it is impossible to find Republicans even mulling an alternative.
The air in Washington is thick with smoke, as the administration suspiciously dodges the inescapable conclusion and appears to be implicating itself in a cover-up. The most benign explanation at this point is that Trump’s administration is simply too dedicated to preserving the alliance to allow its valued partner to suffer the public-relations debacle of blame for the murder; the worst-case scenario is that Trump is accepting bribes from the Saudis. Congress refuses to examine either possibility. Only a wave large enough to flip at least one chamber of Congress will create some mechanism of accountability and oversight to ensure American foreign policy is not being grotesquely corrupted.
“I can only surmise that probably the intel is not painting a pretty picture as it relates to Saudi Arabia,” Corker tells the Post. “Only?”