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New public report to blame Saudi crown prince for 2018 killing of Jamal Khashoggi

The Biden administration will release an intelligence report Thursday that concludes that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to three U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

Jamal Khashoggi during a news conference in Bahrain in 2014.Mohammed Al-Shaikh / AFP – Getty Images file

The intelligence assessment, based largely on work by the CIA, is not new — NBC News was among the organizations that confirmed it in 2018. But its public release will mark a significant new chapter in the U.S.-Saudi relationship and a clear break by President Joe Biden with former President Donald Trump’s policy of equivocating about the Saudi state’s role in a brutal murder that was widely condemned by members of Congress, journalists and a United Nations investigator.

Reuters first reported on the declassified intelligence summary slated for release Thursday.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters Wednesday that Biden would communicate with the Saudi king, rather than his son the crown prince. She said the declassified Khashoggi report was being prepared for release soon.

It remains to be seen how the release will affect U.S.-Saudi relations. Biden officials have been engaging with the Saudis since they took office, according to the State Department.

Khashoggi, 59, was a Saudi citizen working as a Washington Post columnist when he was lured to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018, and killed by a team of intelligence operatives with close ties to the crown prince. His body was dismembered in part with a bone saw, American officials have said, and the remains have never been found.

After first denying the murder, the Saudi government changed course and asserted that the journalist was killed accidentally as the team sought to forcibly extradite him. The Saudis say that the team acted on its own and that the crown prince wasn’t involved.

Eight men were convicted in a trial that international observers called a farce, and five got the death penalty. Their sentences were later commuted to 20 years after they were allegedly forgiven by Khashoggi’s relatives.

Agnes Callamard, who investigated the killing for the United Nations, accused Saudi Arabia of a “deliberate, premeditated execution, an extrajudicial killing for which the state of Saudi Arabia is responsible under international human rights law.”

The CIA presented the White House with its assessment in 2018, but it did not appear to change Trump’s friendly relations with Saudi Arabia and bin Salman in particular.

Trump in 2019 bragged that he protected bin Salman from congressional scrutiny, in recorded interviews with journalist Bob Woodward.

“I saved his ass,” Trump said. “I was able to get Congress to leave him alone. I was able to get them to stop.”

“Do you believe that he did it?” Woodward asked.

“No, he says that he didn’t do it,” Trump replied.

During the 2020 election campaign, Biden promised to make the Saudis “pay the price, and make them in fact the pariah that they are.”

Biden has ended American support for Saudi’s war in Yemen, but he has not moved to cut off military aid to an important Middle East ally and counter-terrorism partner.

“The president’s intention, as is the intention of this government, is to recalibrate our engagement with Saudi Arabia,” Psaki said Wednesday.

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