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Saudi Prince Was Likely Involved In Journalist's Death, Rep. Schiff Says


President Trump says his administration will release a report today weighing in on who's responsible for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul last month. The Washington Post first reported on a conclusion drawn by the CIA - that conclusion, that Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi's killing. In an interview with Chris Wallace on "Fox News Sunday," President Trump defended the crown prince.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He told me that he had nothing to do with it. He told me that, I would say, maybe five times, at different points...

CHRIS WALLACE: But what if he's lying?

TRUMP: ...As recently as a few days ago.

WALLACE: Do you just live with it because you need him?

TRUMP: Well, will anybody really know? All right, will anybody really know? But he did have certainly people that were reasonably close to him and close to him that were probably involved. You saw we put on very heavy sanctions - massive sanctions - on a large group of people from Saudi Arabia.

MARTIN: Congressman Adam Schiff of California is set to become the new chairman of the House Intelligence Committee now that Democrats have the majority in the House. And he joins us now. Thanks for being with us, Congressman.

ADAM SCHIFF: It's great to be with you.

MARTIN: What do you make of President Trump's remark that we may never know the extent of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's involvement in the death of Jamal Khashoggi.

SCHIFF: Well, like a lot of things, you never know things with 100 percent certainty, or you rarely know them with 100 percent certainty. But nonetheless, you have a pretty good idea. And the intelligence community will report to you the quality of the intelligence they have, the level of confidence they have in it. And you have to make a decision not based on complete information, but on the best information you have.

So it's very important that the president listen to what the intelligence community has to say. He did express in that interview with Chris Wallace something we hear him do repeatedly, and that is put the emphasis on the fact that people deny things. Well, of course they deny things. They're not going to just admit culpability, particularly in something as gruesome as the murder of Khashoggi. That can't be what guides U.S. policy, however.

MARTIN: The government in Turkey handed over an audio tape of Khashoggi's killing. President Trump said he declined to listen to it because it's too disturbing. May I ask if you have heard the tape?

SCHIFF: I have not heard the tape. I have received a briefing from our intelligence agencies. And I think it will be worthwhile, whatever tapes are in the possession of the intelligence community, that members of Congress have access to them and the translations that would be necessary. But no, I have not.

MARTIN: May I ask you, as the incoming chair of the House Intelligence Committee, based on the information that you have, do you believe the crown prince is responsible for Khashoggi's death?

SCHIFF: Well, I can't comment on the briefings that I've been given. But certainly, when you look at the way the Saudi regime operates and the firm grip the crown prince has on it, to me it's inconceivable that he had no knowledge of what the marching orders were. And so I think we have to accept the likelihood that the crown prince was involved and determine what's U.S. policy as a result.

And that's not an easy decision, but I think we certainly ought to, on its own right, bring the war in Yemen to an end. But I also think we should suspend overall arms sales to the Saudis and diminish our reliance on them on important things like the Mideast peace process, where they will continue to have a role. But they can't be our pivotal player in that.

MARTIN: I'm going to pivot to talk more broadly about your purview as the House intelligence chair, which you will assume in January. Under the Republicans, the committee said it found no evidence of collusion between Donald Trump's election campaign and Russia. Do you intend to reopen that investigation?

SCHIFF: Well, we don't view it really as reopening because we never closed the investigation. The Republicans did walk away from it. But we have continued to bring in witnesses and receive documentary evidence. And we'll continue to do that. We'll certainly prioritize the areas that we couldn't go into without the power of subpoena and that Bob Mueller may or may not be able to investigate himself. By the time we take the gavel in January, we may have a report from Bob Mueller that will further guide us.

But it would be irresponsible, in our view, not to determine whether the Russians possess leverage over the president of the United States. And one of the areas in particular that concerns us is whether the Russians were laundering money through The Trump Organization. And that may be the leverage that they have over the president.

MARTIN: You mentioned Robert Mueller's report may be concluded by January. But we don't necessarily know if it will be made public. Do you think that should happen?

SCHIFF: I do think that the report should be public. And there very well may be parts of the report that have to remain classified because they're derived from classified sources. But I think we should be as transparent as possible. This is simply, I think, too important to either sweep under the rug or tell the American people, you know, just trust us; we know what happened or we're taking the right response. Given the ample divisions over the Russia investigation and all the president's rhetoric on the subject, I think the more the public can see, the better.

MARTIN: Lastly, Congressman, before I let you go, The Washington Post reported yesterday that the president's daughter, Ivanka Trump, used her personal email to send White House correspondence. This was obviously one of Donald Trump's go-to criticisms of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign. She was using a private server, though, which is different than what we're talking about. But still, it's not protocol. Is this something that you're concerned about? Would you investigate it as the House intel chair?

SCHIFF: Well, it is certainly something I'm concerned about. I don't know that it's within the jurisdiction of the intel committee unless there are allegations that involve classified information. But the hypocrisy is quite overwhelming. And if it was an effort to circumvent the record-keeping requirements that the federal government imposes, then there are other committees that would look into it. But that's probably not the domain of the intelligence committee.

MARTIN: Congressman Adam Schiff of California, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee. He's set to be the chairman of that committee come January. Thanks so much for your time. We appreciate it.

SCHIFF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.