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Rep. Gerry Connolly Weighs In On U.S. Response To Killing Of Jamal Khashoggi

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

For more on that, we're joined now by Representative Gerry Connolly. He's a Democrat from Virginia and a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. He's among the members of Congress from both parties criticizing President Trump today for his stance on Saudi Arabia, and Jamal Khashoggi was also one of his constituents. Congressman Connolly, thanks for being here in the studio.

GERRY CONNOLLY: My pleasure.

SHAPIRO: What do you make of the president's comments today?

CONNOLLY: I think it's one of the most amoral statements any president has ever made.

SHAPIRO: One of the most amoral statements any president has ever made.

CONNOLLY: Yes. A man, a resident of the United States, a columnist for a an American newspaper, in good faith went into the Saudi consulate in Turkey to get documents to get married. He was brutally murdered in a clearly preplanned operation conducted by Saudi officials with intimate ties to the crown prince. We now know from our own intelligence community that it had the approbation and awareness of the crown prince. And to decide that somehow our Saudi relations economic and military have to trump, if I can use that word, a brutal murder in sovereign international territory to me is a new low.

SHAPIRO: President Trump says the people who we know to have been responsible for the murder are being held accountable. And to quote from the statement, he says, "it may very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event. Maybe he did, and maybe he didn't."

CONNOLLY: Well, we know from published reports in The Washington Post that are very well informed that our intelligence community has concluded that this was done with the foreknowledge and approbation, if not the planning and design, of the crown prince himself. Clearly they have told the president that, and so for him to say, well, maybe he did it, and maybe he didn't - nonetheless apparently in his mind, that doesn't matter. Well, it ought to matter. It ought to matter to everybody. That is simply unacceptable behavior, and it can't go unaddressed.

SHAPIRO: The president also points to U.S. financial interests, arms sales to Saudi Arabia, saying, if we foolishly cancel these contracts, Russia and China would be the enormous beneficiaries. What do you think of that?

CONNOLLY: Well, first of all, the Saudis are not going to somehow completely pivot to the Russians and the Chinese in terms of long-term military supplies, training and equipment. But having said that, the United States cannot simply say this is acceptable behavior. This is a new norm in international diplomacy. Everyone who walks into a Saudi consulate takes their own risk, especially if you're a Saudi national who has in any way criticized, however mildly, the ruling government of Saudi Arabia. That can't be the new norm. And that is what our president today basically said.

SHAPIRO: So let's talk about what Congress does from here. There have been members of both parties critical of President Trump's response. Just this afternoon, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said there will be strong bipartisan support for serious sanctions against Saudi Arabia. There already are sanctions against individuals connected to this killing. Do you think the parties in Congress will be able to agree on what to do next?

CONNOLLY: I believe there is a bipartisan consensus around the horror of this act. I believe that President Trump is not going to get his way with Congress, especially in the next Congress, on this matter. I think there are Republicans who share our horror at what has happened, and the repugnance has to lead to something. So I think there will be congressional hearings and investigations. And I think there will be legislative follow-up that will be punitive in nature, and it will include the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.

SHAPIRO: If that legislation passes the House and Senate, which is a big if, President Trump said in his statement today, I will consider whatever ideas are presented to me but only if they are consistent with the absolute security and safety of America. What does that say to you?

CONNOLLY: Well, you know, Mr. Trump doesn't have a - doesn't have as much leverage as he once did. And I will remind you even at the height of his leverage, Congress passed a comprehensive sanctions package that included sanctions against Russia that the president said he opposed. But he signed the legislation. So I think there's a certain that ability that could kick in here that, despite his misgivings, he will have to accept.

SHAPIRO: Just briefly before we say goodbye, I understand you met Jamal Khashoggi. What kind of an impression did he make on you?

CONNOLLY: Yeah, I was at a dinner party in my district, and he was there last spring. He struck me as a very thoughtful, quiet, reflective, mild-mannered gentleman. His critique of the Saudi government was very moderate. It was not - he wasn't calling for the overthrow of the regime. He wanted to see basic reforms, democratic kinds of reforms so that Saudi lives were easier, the quality of life was improved and there was more opportunity for Saudi citizens in his own country.

SHAPIRO: Congressman...

CONNOLLY: And for that, he gave up his life.

SHAPIRO: Thank you so much, Congressman Connolly - appreciate it.

CONNOLLY: Thank you, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Congressman Gerry Connolly is a Democrat representing Virginia's 11th District, where Jamal Khashoggi was a resident. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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