The State Department, dubbed the “Khashoggi ban,” issued visa restrictions on 76 Saudis and their families. The Trump administration had initially drafted the plan and shelved it due to fears of alienating the main ally in the Middle East. While the Biden team had contemplated the idea during the transition period, once they took office, they found that professional State Department officers had already drawn up the plan, according to people familiar with the development of the policy.
A senior Trump administration official confirmed that “the work is done,” noting that the plan was rejected with a “consensual recommendation” after it was sent and discussed by senior Trump administration officials.
Once Biden was sworn in, the new State Department-appointed officials arrived with “a very similar concept already in mind,” a Biden administration official said. They asked the professional experts who created the plan under Trump what could be done to achieve it.
Ultimately, a list of 76 Saudis on the “Khashoggi ban” list, whose names the US State Department said it would not release, was sent to Congress in February 2020 as part of a confidential report on the measures the ministry was considering under Secretary of State Mike and Pompeo said, The official who looked at the listings for CNN.
“It’s somewhat normal for departments and agencies to bring up previously thoughtful policies for review when new administrations come in,” said Javid Ali, a longtime national security official who served under both Trump and President Barack Obama. This is especially the case in the first few months. For any new administration.
The visa ban on 76 Saudis was coupled with sanctions against a Saudi official and the Crown Prince’s personal protection team, the Rapid Intervention Force. But there was no direct punishment directed at the crown prince himself, whose name was specifically mentioned at the head of a long-awaited unclassified intelligence report that he approved of Khashoggi’s killing.
The Biden administration argued last week that the goal now was to “recalibrate” with Saudi Arabia, not to “rupture.”
“Any country that dares to engage in these reprehensible acts should know that their officials – and their immediate family members – can submit to this new policy,” a senior State Department official said in a statement. “We expect it to have a deterrent effect around the world.”
The senior Trump official told CNN that the Trump administration did not agree, and felt that the visa ban would be counterproductive. The ban was seen as “symbolic, ineffective and likely to push the Saudis into Russian.” [and] “A Chinese hug,” the official said.
In response to criticism that it did not go far against Mohammed bin Salman, the Biden administration defended itself by pointing to the early moves it took against Saudi Arabia: ending US support for the war in Yemen, reviewing arms sales, and putting an even greater end to it. Focus on human rights.
When Biden’s top intelligence official, Avril Haines, released the unclassified report on Khashoggi’s murder, she was keeping her promise to Congress to publish it. The release was required by law, which the Trump administration ignored.
The office of the Director of National Intelligence refused to fully explain the reason for the names being removed, going beyond saying “they should not have been included”.
Last week, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence sent a classified explanation of the error to Capitol Hill, according to an official who viewed it and said the three men were indeed linked to Khashoggi’s murder.
“It was not a coincidence that the three names were in one copy of the report,” the official said.
ODNI declined to comment on his explanation to Congress.
The error, which now appears to be clumsy disclosure of classified information, is all the more apparent because the Biden administration said the report contained no new information and had been shared with Congress over a year ago. However, none of the three names were mentioned previously in connection with Khashoggi’s death.
One of the three men whose names were crossed out, Abdullah Muhammad al-Huwairini, is a high-ranking counterterrorism official and his brother is the head of the Presidency of State Security in Saudi Arabia. It is not known if he or the others were among the 76 banned from traveling to the United States.
CNN’s Vivian Salameh and Kylie Atwood contributed to this report.