CNN host Dana Bash repeatedly pressed White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Sunday morning over President Joe Biden apparently shirking his promise to hold Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) accountable for his role in the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Following the release of a declassified intelligence report on Khashoggi’s death that determined MBS directly approved the killing of the journalist, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced visa restrictions impacting 76 Saudis who have harassed and attacked journalists and activists. The Biden administration, however, issued no actions or sanctions against the crown prince.
According to CNN, administration officials said that sanctioning MBS “was never really an option” because any punishment of the crown prince would have been “too complicated” and “could have jeopardized U.S. military interests in Saudi Arabia.”
Interviewing Psaki on CNN’s State of the Union, Bash brought up Biden’s previous criticism of former President Donald Trump for not punishing MBS and other senior Saudi leaders over Khashoggi’s murder. The then-presidential candidate claimed at the time that his administration would not “sell more weapons” to Saudi Arabia and “make them pay the price” for killing the Washington Post columnist.
“Now that he’s president, he’s imposed no travel ban, no asset freeze, no criminal charges, and most importantly no sanctions directly on the crown prince himself,” the CNN host noted. “Why not?”
Psaki said that the administration has been “crystal clear” that they are going to “recalibrate this relationship” with Saudi Arabia,” insisting that the White House is “ensuring that we are holding to account the actions” made by the Saudi government. The top spokesperson also asserted that they have sanctioned the Saudi deputy head of intelligence and that this will “make clear that we will never let this happen again.”
Bash, however, pointed out that the White House is punishing those under the crown prince but not MBS himself.
“So isn’t punishing them like punishing the hitman and not the mob boss who actually put out the hit?” Bash asked.
“Well, first, Dana, historically and even in recent history, Democratic and Republican administrations, there have not been sanctions put in place for the leaders of foreign governments where we have diplomatic relations and even where we don’t have diplomatic relations,” Psaki responded. “We believe there are more effective ways to make sure this doesn’t happen again and to also be able to leave room to work with the Saudis on areas where there is mutual agreement and where there is national interests for the United States.”
The State of the Union moderator, meanwhile, once again reminded the press secretary that Biden had said he would hold MBS accountable, adding that it “just doesn’t look like that when it comes to a notion of justice.” She also wondered aloud whether Psaki believed justice had been served.
“One of the reasons the State Department put in place what we’re calling the ‘Khashoggi Rule’ is we believe anyone who threatens journalists and dissidents should be held to account and have their travel visas revoked,” the White House flack replied.
“That’s a global issue and one we took action on, on Friday,” she continued, before adding: “At the same time, it needs to be clear that our relationship with Saudi Arabia is one in the interest of the United States to maintain while still being clear it will be recalibrated.”
Bash, for her part, got the final word, noting that while the Biden administration is showing Saudi Arabia “some outrage and some consequences,” he’s doing nothing towards the crown prince.
“You know, there are a lot of questions we can continue to ask about that, including President Biden promising that America is back and the question of whether or not the world will see that America is back if somebody who directs the brutal murder of a journalist is not specifically held accountable,” the CNN host concluded.