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Saudi crown prince approved murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi: U.S. intel report

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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the 2018 operation to “capture or kill” Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to a declassified U.S. intelligence report published Friday. In October 2018, Khashoggi was killed and dismembered inside a Saudi consulate in Turkey, sparking international outrage against Saudi Arabia.

In the report, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) cited bin Salman’s control of decision-making in Saudi Arabia, plus the direct involvement of a key advisor and members of the 35-year-old crown prince’s protective detail, in the operation that killed Khashoggi.

“We assess that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi,” the four-page summary of the intelligence community’s findings reads.

“We base this assessment on the Crown Prince’s control of decision-making in the Kingdom since 2017, the direct involvement of a key adviser and members of Muhammad bin Salman’s protective detail in the operation, and the Crown Prince’s support for using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad, including Khashoggi,” the report continues.

“Since 2017, the Crown Prince has had absolute control of the Kingdom’s security and intelligence organizations, making it highly unlikely that Saudi officials would have carried out an operation of this nature without the Crown Prince’s authorization,” the report also said.

The U.S.-based Washington Post contributor Khashoggi, who had criticized the Saudi royal family, entered a Saudi consulate in Turkey on October 2, 2018 and never left. He was murdered by a group of assassins, who subsequently dismembered his body. His remains were never found.

According to the ODNI report, around the time of Khashoggi’s murder, “the Crown Prince probably fostered an environment in which aides were afraid that failure to complete assigned tasks might result in him firing or arresting them. This suggests that the aides were unlikely to question Muhammad bin Salman’s orders or undertake sensitive actions without his consent.”

Furthermore, the document concludes that the “Crown Prince viewed Khashoggi as a threat to the Kingdom and broadly supported using violent measures if necessary to silence him.”

“Although Saudi officials had pre-planned an unspecified operation against Khashoggi,” the document added, “we do not know how far in advance Saudi officials decided to harm him.”

On Friday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced visa restrictions on 76 Saudi officials involved in Khashoggi’s death and the harassment of other journalists and political dissidents abroad.

“The murder of journalist and U.S. lawful permanent resident Jamal Khashoggi shocked the world. Starting today, we will have a new global policy bearing his name to impose visa restrictions on those who engage in extraterritorial attacks on journalists or activists,” Blinken said in a statement.

The visa restrictions affect 76 Saudi officials “believed to have been engaged in threatening dissidents overseas, including but not limited to the Khashoggi killing” and at the direction of the Saudi government, the statement added.

Notably, President Joe Biden in his first call with Saudi Arabia’s 85-year-old King Salman on Thursday “affirmed the importance the United States places on universal human rights and the rule of law,” according to a readout from the White House. Though, Khashoggi’s name does not pop up in the readout.

Biden’s phone call followed White House press secretary on Tuesday saying: “On Saudi Arabia, I would say we’ve made clear from the beginning that we are going to recalibrate our relationship with Saudi Arabia.”

After previously denying knowledge of Khashoggi’s death, Saudi authorities at the time claimed that he got into a fight inside the consulate and died in the clash, with the crown prince telling Bloomberg that the journalist had left the consulate shortly after arriving in stark contradiction to reports. Eventually, authorities said the journalist was killed in a “rogue operation,” though they denied that bin Salman was involved.

In a June 2019 report, a United Nations investigator concluded that Khashoggi was “the victim of a deliberate, premeditated execution, an extrajudicial killing for which the state of Saudi Arabia is responsible under international human rights law.”

Less than two month’s after Khashoggi’s death, then-President Donald Trump doubted bin Salman’s involvement in the journalist’s death at the time, saying, “we may never know all of the facts surrounding” Khashoggi’s death, but “our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

“It could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” he also said.

Trump was widely criticized at the time for his seemingly conciliatory stance.

You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @Douglas_P_Braff.

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Cuomo says he’ll ‘fully cooperate’ with NY AG’s review of sexual harassment claims

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said Wednesday that he will “fully cooperate” with the state attorney general’s independent review into sexual harassment allegations made against the currently scandal-ridden governor, saying, “I fully support a woman’s right to come forward.”

Last Wednesday, Lindsey Boylan, who served in his administration for over three years, accused Cuomo of suggesting to her on a 2017 flight that they play strip poker, inappropriate touching, and kissing her on the lips without her consent.

RELATED: ‘Let’s play strip poker’: Fmr. Cuomo aide accuses NY governor of sexual harassment

Following Boylan’s accusations, 25-year-old Charlotte Bennett alleged the governor indicated interest in having an affair with her while she was serving in his administration as a health policy adviser. In a Saturday New York Times report, Bennett told the newspaper that Cuomo asked her if she had “ever been with an older man,” adding that “age doesn’t matter” in relationships.

At Wednesday’s press briefing, the Empire State governor addressed the accusations leveled against him over the past seven days by three women and New York Attorney General Letitia James’ (D) independent review into those claims, which she announced on Monday was formally proceeding.

RELATED: De Blasio ‘sickened’ by Cuomo sexual harassment claims

“As you probably know, the attorney general is doing an independent review, and I will fully cooperate with that review,” Cuomo said at the beginning of his statement. “Now, the lawyers say I shouldn’t say anything when you have a pending review until that review is over. I understand that, I’m a lawyer, too. But, I want New Yorkers to hear from me directly on this.”

“First, I fully support a woman’s right to come forward,” the governor began. “And I think it should be encouraged in every way. I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable. It was unintentional and I truly and deeply apologize for it. I feel awful about it, and frankly I am embarrassed by it, and that’s not easy to say. But that’s the truth.”

This echoes what Cuomo said in a Sunday statement about the allegations, in which he stated he “may have been insensitive” during his tenure but charged his accusers of misinterpreting his actions, saying, “I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation… I am truly sorry about that.”

RELATED: Cuomo responds to sexual harassment claims, saying he ‘may have been insensitive’

During his Wednesday remarks, Cuomo iterated “I never touched anyone inappropriately,” repeated that sentence, then said “I never knew at the time that I was making anyone feel uncomfortable” and repeated that one too.

“And I certainly never, ever meant to offend anyone or hurt anyone or cause anyone any pain. That is the last thing I would ever want to do,” he continued. “I ask the people of this state to wait for the facts from the attorney general’s report before forming an opinion. Get the facts, please, before forming an opinion.”

“I also want you to know that I have learned from what has been an incredibly difficult situation for me as well as other people, and I’ve learned an important lesson,” the governor said at the end of his statement. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry for whatever pain I caused anyone, I never intended it, and I will be the better for this experience.”

Amid Boylan and Bennett’s allegations, another report of Cuomo sexually harassing a woman has cropped up. On Monday, a woman named Anna Ruch accused the governor of placing his hands on her cheeks—without her consent—at a 2019 wedding reception and asking if he could kiss her. A photograph of the two together at the event has also been circulating on social media.

RELATED: ‘Eat the whole sausage: Gov. Cuomo in hot water for resurfaced video

Asked at Wednesday’s briefing about the pictures that have resurfaced of him being touchy with people, particularly that of him and Ruch, the governor claimed that it is his way of greeting people.

“I understand the opinion of—and feelings of—Ms. Ruch,” Cuomo said. “You can find hundreds of pictures of me making the same gesture with hundreds of people—women, children, men, etc. You can go find hundreds of pictures of me kissing people. […] It is my usual and customary way of greeting.”

Moreover, the governor said that his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, would do the same thing.

“By the way, it was my father’s way of greeting people,” Cuomo said, explaining, “You’re the governor of the state, you want people to feel comfortable, you want to reach out to them.”

He also mentioned that he kisses and hugs legislators and noted that at an event in Queens the other day he hugged pastors and state assembly members.

Furthermore, the governor said that his intent “doesn’t matter,” saying, “What it matters is if anybody was offended by it.”

“But if they were offended by it, then it was wrong,” he added, going on to say that if they were offended or hurt by it, he apologizes.

MORE ON CUOMO: NY dem says state legislature is ‘inching toward’ Cuomo impeachment probe

You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @Douglas_P_Braff.

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