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Khashoggi murder reveals Washington power games

Cagri Özdemir
November 24, 2018

The latest row between US President Donald Trump and the CIA over the Jamal Khashoggi case is yet another round in Washington's power struggle.

Jamal Khashoggi
Image: imago/IP3press/A. Morissard

The decision by US President Donald Trump to shield Saudi Arabia in the case of the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, despite the assessment from the CIA that Khashoggi's death was ordered directly by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, shows the scope of the ongoing power games in the current US administration.

"We are talking about two different warring parts of America," said David Hearst, editor-in-chief of the Middle East Eye, a UK-based online news outlet.

"As we all know, this is not the first time such an open information war has been declared between the CIA and the Trump administration," Hearst said, referring to the Russia investigation into Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and the president's attacks on former CIA Director John Brennan.

After Trump's much criticized statement this week that effectively shielded the Saudis from any repercussions from the US in relation to the murder, Trump has continued his attacks on the intelligence agency.

On Thursday, the president rebuffed the CIA over its claims regarding the crown prince, saying the CIA "did not come to a conclusion. They have feelings certain ways… I don't know if anyone's going to be able to conclude the crown prince did it."

It's likely the CIA will make another move in the coming days or weeks. Turkish media has reported that the agency's director, Gina Haspel, suggested to Turkish officials last month that she had a recording in which the crown prince gave instructions to silence Khashoggi.

Read more: Khashoggi case: Arab media omit uncomfortable facts 

'Blunt, undiplomatic language'

According to Hall Gardner, professor at the American University of Paris and author of World War Trump, there have always been divisions between the National Security Council, the CIA and the State Department under various US administrations.

"While these divisions were recurrent in every administration, what appears unprecedented is Trump's own policy statement on the Khashoggi affair, written in blunt, undiplomatic language," Gardner told DW, adding that the reason for the policy divide between the US institutions and the Trump administration is Trump himself.

In the White House statement — which echoed Trump's media statements and tweets — the president argued at length for Washington's choice to stand with Saudi Arabia. He reiterated that Riyadh's multibillion-dollar investments in the US are of utmost importance for US national security and job creation.

On the Khashoggi affair, the statement said, "Intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event — maybe he did and maybe he didn't!"

The Committee to Protect Journalists called the statement "an appalling message to send to Saudi Arabia and the world," while Fred Ryan, CEO of The Washington Post, the newspaper that published Khashoggi's columns, accused Trump of betraying "long-established American values of respect for human rights."

For Gardner, Trump's decision to side with Saudi Arabia allows Riyadh to believe it can act with impunity, which could lead to dangerous implications for the entire Middle East.

Democrats to investigate US-Saudi ties

Hearst believes this week's White House statement backing the Saudis will not be the end of the Khashoggi affair in Washington.

"What's going to happen now is that the CIA is going to get its evidence on the public record, either through the press or most likely through hearings by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee or the House of Representatives Foreign Relations Committee, which is now Democrat-controlled," Hearst said.

On Friday, Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, the incoming head of the House intelligence panel, told The Washington Post that the panel will investigate Trump's response to Khashoggi's murder as part of a "deep dive" into US-Saudi ties next year.

Hearst believes more information will be unveiled regarding the Khashoggi murder, forcing the Saudis — and Trump — to change their stories once again.