Could Donald Trump Lose His Job for Defending Saudi Arabia? Senator Says, 'President Violated the Law'

A senior U.S. lawmaker has accused President Donald Trump of breaking the law in an attempt to cover up the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia's alleged involvement in the slaying of a Saudi journalist who fled the kingdom.

Trump has ignored a mandatory call invoked in October by fellow Senate Foreign Relations Committee members Democrat Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Republican Bob Corker of Tennessee over Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's suspected hand in ordering the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi earlier that month at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. As the 120-day limit passed Friday, the White House offered no clear answers.

"The law is clear and direct, and the president violated the law by not giving Congress an answer to the substantive question, which is, Does the crown prince of Saudi Arabia ultimately hold responsibility for the death of Jamal Khashoggi?" Menendez told CNN on Monday.

With the White House deflecting further inquiries into the matter, Menendez said he was working with Republican South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, now chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to "hold the administration's feet to the fire."

President Donald Trump acknowledges Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman as they line up for the family photo at the Argentina G20 Leaders’ Summit 2018, in Buenos Aires, on November 30, 2018. Trump has viewed the young royal as a close Middle East ally, but scrutiny over the kingdom’s role in killing a U.S.-based journalist have strained this relationship. Daniel Jayo/Getty Images

Menendez has been seeking to target Prince Mohammed with the Magnitsky Act, named after Russian tax accountant Sergei Magnitsky, who launched an investigation into alleged fraud committed by Moscow officials before being arrested on corruption charges in 2008. Magnitsky died in prison of apparent health complications one year later. U.S. officials accused Russia of jailing him to cover up their own graft and then denying him medical treatment.

In 2012, Congress passed the Magnitsky Act, allowing Washington to sanction individuals found to be involved in Magnitsky's arrest and death. In 2017, the legislation was expanded to include any foreign individual suspected of human rights abuses around the world.

Saudi Arabia initially denied playing any role in Khashoggi's death, but later admitted its agents had taken the writer's life in an accidental scuffle, and that the killing was part of a planned operation. Still, the Saudi government argued that it had not ordered the attack and set out to arrest those believed responsible and to sack top intelligence figures.

The CIA then conducted an investigation of its own, and the classified findings have left a number of lawmakers, such as Menendez and Graham, even more confident of Prince Mohammad's culpability. Trump and other administration officials have seen the same report, however, and denied that it established a direct link between the young royal and the assassination, stirring up further suspicions among senators.

Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia—where Khashoggi became a resident after leaving Saudi Arabia in fear of retribution for criticizing the royal family—accused the Trump administration Sunday of "aiding in the cover up of a murder." The following day, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters that Kaine "is just dead wrong" and that the administration "will continue to take more action, continue our investigation."

Books dedicated to the murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, written by his partner Hatice Cengiz, are displayed during a presentation in Istanbul, on February 8. Khashoggi's works, often critical of the Saudi government, regularly appeared in major publications such as The Washington Post. OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images

Though the U.S. has sanctioned up to 17 Saudi nationals to date in response to Khashoggi's death, calls to turn up the pressure on the president have emerged from the now-Democrat-controlled House of Representatives as well. Democratic Representative Adam B. Schiff of California told The Washington Post on Tuesday that he and other colleagues were looking to do a "deep dive" asking, "Why does the administration try to cover for the Saudi royal family?" and, "Why does the president continue to dissemble about the role of the crown prince in the murder of Khashoggi?"

"The concern that we have always had is whether this president is acting in the national interest, or because of some hidden financial motivations," Schiff added. "I think we need to find out."

The U.S. has long fostered close military-industrial ties with Saudi Arabia, the top global buyer of U.S. weapons and a key ally in Trump's attempts to isolate Iran. But Khashoggi's death and persistent accusations of Riyadh committing war crimes in its campaign against a Yemeni Zaidi Shiite Muslim rebel group known as Ansar Allah, or the Houthis, have prompted new inquiries into the kingdom's potential ties with the Trump family, particularly the president and his son-in-law Jared Kushner.

The Senate voted in favor of blocking U.S. military assistance to Saudi Arabia in the first-ever application of the War Powers Act in December, but the Republican-controlled House blocked further discussion via legislation inserted into an agriculture bill. Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, along with Democrats Ro Khanna of California and Chris Murphy of Connecticut as well as Republican Mike Lee of Utah introduced a second such measure late last month.