McCain Bill Spurs Probe into Missing Journalist; Smartwatch a Possible Clue

In this Feb. 1, 2015, file photo, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi speaks during a press conference in Manama, Bahrain. Turkish claims that Khashoggi, who wrote for The Washington Post, was slain inside a Saudi diplomatic mission in Turkey, have put the Trump administration in a delicate spot with one of its closest Mideast allies. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali)
In this Feb. 1, 2015, file photo, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi speaks during a press conference in Manama, Bahrain. Turkish claims that Khashoggi, who wrote for The Washington Post, was slain inside a Saudi diplomatic mission in Turkey, have put the Trump administration in a delicate spot with one of its closest Mideast allies. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali)

Senators from both sides of the aisle cited a bill sponsored by the late Sen. John McCain in pressing the Trump administration for answers Friday on the fate of a missing journalist, whose disappearance has prompted calls for cutting off arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi national who angered the regime with his reports for The Washington Post, never returned from a visit last week to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Turkish authorities have alleged that he was murdered inside the consulate by members of a Saudi hit team who flew into Istanbul on the same day and left the country within hours.

The Washington Post, citing anonymous U.S. officials, reported Friday that Turkey has video and audio recordings showing that Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate.

"You can hear how he was interrogated, tortured and then murdered," a person with knowledge of the recordings said, the Post reported.

Turkish officials are also investigating whether the Apple smartwatch Khashoggi reportedly was wearing could have transmitted information to his personal phone, which his fiancée was holding while waiting for him outside the consulate, CNN reported.

Khashoggi's disappearance has prompted demands in Congress from Republicans and Democrats for answers from the Trump administration.

In the Oval Office on Thursday, President Donald Trump acknowledged he was bothered by the circumstances of the disappearance.

"I don't like it at all, "he said.

But Trump also cautioned against moves to cut off U.S. arms sales to the Saudis.

"I know they're talking [in Congress] about different kinds of sanctions, but they're [the Saudis] spending $110 billion on military equipment and on things that create jobs, like jobs and others for this country. I don't like the concept of stopping an investment of $110 billion into the United States," he said.

Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, and Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and 18 other senators referenced the Global Magnitsky Act in calling for an accounting of what happened to Khashoggi, who had been living in Virginia.

The Magnitsky Act calls for the U.S. to take action against any state found to be responsible for "an extrajudicial killing, torture, or other gross violation of internationally recognized human rights against an individual exercising freedom of expression."

Under the Magnitsky Act, sponsored by McCain and Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, Trump would have 120 days to decide whether to impose sanctions on a violating state.

Separately, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, said he plans to force a vote on cutting off arms sales to Saudi Arabia if the Saudis are implicated in Khashoggi's disappearance.

"If they're responsible -- or even if there's any indication that they're implicated in killing this journalist that was critical of them -- we've got to stop sending them arms," Paul told WHAS, a Kentucky radio station.

The Magnitsky Act was named for Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian tax lawyer and accountant who exposed corruption among high government officials allied to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Magnitsky died in a Moscow prison cell in 2009 amid allegations that he was beaten while being held on spurious charges.

In 2010, McCain, who knew Magnitsky, co-sponsored the Magnitsky Act. In a Senate floor speech in 2016, McCain charged that Magnitsky was "murdered for defying the tyranny of Vladimir Putin's Russia."

The senator said Magnitsky had made himself a target by blowing the whistle on theft and tax fraud by Putin associates.

"He was beaten and tortured; he was denied medical care," McCain said.

Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi regime and Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, went to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last week ostensibly to take care of paperwork involving his upcoming marriage. His fiancée waited outside the consulate, but he never returned.

On Thursday, Corker told reporters, "I think they [the Saudis] did it and, unfortunately, I think he's deceased," CNN reported.

The Khashoggi mystery threatened to disrupt the booming market in U.S. foreign arms sales that Trump has touted as a jobs creator and a boon to U.S. defense firms.

U.S. sales of military equipment to foreign governments rose 33 percent to $55.6 billion in fiscal 2018, which ended Sept. 30, under Trump's "Buy American" plan rolled out last April, the Pentagon's Defense Cooperation Agency reported Wednesday.

On his first foreign trip as president in May 2017, Trump in Saudi Arabia signed a long-term defense deal with the Saudis for the sale of $110 billion in U.S. arms.

At the State Department on Thursday, spokeswoman Heather Nauert offered little information on Khashoggi's disappearance but said the U.S. had "offered support" to Turkey in its investigation. She would not confirm whether the FBI was on the ground to assist the Turks.

"We don't have the facts yet," Nauert said at a State Department briefing. She said the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, was going back to the kingdom on Thursday but had been asked to bring back information on Khashoggi when he returns to the U.S. at an unspecified date.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

Show Full Article