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Senate Intelligence leaders demand Trump administration declassify Khashoggi info

Posted March 3, 2020 3:02 p.m. EST

— Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr and the panel's top Democrat, Mark Warner of Virginia, are asking the Trump administration to declassify information related to the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the US intelligence community's assessment of who was responsible.

The senators sent a letter on Monday to acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell requesting the administration provide an unclassified report on Khashoggi's killing as required by a provision in last year's National Defense Authorization Act, Burr confirmed Tuesday.

Burr told CNN that he sent the letter to Grenell as "one last effort to jog him" before Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, pushes to use Senate rules to try to force the report's release. The Washington Post first reported the letter from Burr and Warner.

Yet, the office of the director of national intelligence, which is now led by a Trump loyalist in Grenell, told lawmakers last month it would not provide any unclassified information about the killing, and provided only a classified report.

When asked Tuesday about the letter from Senate lawmakers, an ODNI spokesperson told CNN that the agency "has no specific detail to offer concerning the response" that has already been provided to lawmakers but "believes the response satisfies Congress's specific requests as outlined in the FY20 NDAA sections."

Khashoggi -- a Washington Post columnist and royal insider-turned-critic -- was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018. He had expected to collect documents for his upcoming wedding but was instead killed and allegedly dismembered in the building. His remains are yet to be found.

But more than a year after Khashoggi's death, lawmakers are continuing to press the Trump administration over what it views as a lack of transparency on the matter.

Last year, President Donald Trump said he was "extremely angry and very unhappy" about the murder of Khashoggi but claimed that "nobody has directly pointed a finger" at Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, despite the conclusions of the CIA and a United Nations report.

MBS has denied personal involvement in the killing.

The request from Burr and Warner comes on the heels of a similar letter that was sent to Grenell last week by House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff urging the declassification of the Khashoggi information. The letter from the Senate leaders means the push for the Khashoggi information is now bipartisan.

"The Committee shares ODNI's concerns regarding the protection of sensitive Intelligence Community sources and methods," Schiff wrote. "However, after reviewing the classified annex, the Committee believes that the annex could be declassified with appropriate redactions that should not alter or obscure in any way the Intelligence Community's determinations, presentation of evidence, or identification of relevant persons, as required by law. In doing so, ODNI would fulfill Congress' requirement and intent that your office submit an unclassified report on the killing of Mr. Khashoggi."

However, the ODNI spokesperson noted Tuesday that the relevant NDAA provisions require "an unclassified report ... which may include a classified annex" and "an unclassified report ... consistent with protecting sources and methods."

"The ODNI will continue to be responsive to questions from Congress, including providing classified briefings, reports and information to meet the needs of its oversight committees," the spokesperson told CNN.

"The IC has consistently provided our oversight committees with all relevant intelligence. This particular request asks us to make that intelligence available to the public. That is something that cannot be done without jeopardizing sources and methods," they added, noting the agency is "following the recommendation of nonpartisan career intelligence officials."

Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Rep. Tom Malinowski of New Jersey held a press conference Tuesday with Khashoggi's fiancé to push for the release of a declassified report, and Wyden said he may try to force the report's release in the Intelligence Committee.

"I'm going to invoke a process that the Senate created a number of years ago... for itself to release information to the public," Wyden said. "I'm doing it because the law left no ambiguity — the law was very specific about what needs to be public, and the information I'm seeking to be released is consistent in all particulars with this requirement.

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