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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Anadolu Agency/Getty Contributor, Michael Kovac/Getty Contributor

If it weren't for impeachment, the country's biggest story would be allegations that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) hacked Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' phone.

Why it matters: This would be the nominal leader of an American ally spying on the head of one of America's largest companies, who doubles as the owner of one of America's most influential media outlets.

  • UN investigators concluded "with medium to high confidence" that MBS sent Bezos a video file via WhatsApp that included secret code developed by Israeli spy software maker NSO Group.
  • The result was a colossal, months-long data extraction, beginning when Jamal Khashoggi was still alive and writing critically about Saudi Arabia for the Bezos-owned Washington Post. Saudi Arabia strongly denies the allegation.
  • It was allegedly done via the same messaging app that MBS has reportedly used to communicate with top White House aide Jared Kushner. Oh, and Michael Flynn, former U.S. national security adviser, was once a paid advisor to Israel-based NSO Group.

Flashback: Facebook last October sued NSO Group, for allegedly providing tools that enabled this very sort of hack. Apple and Microsoft have co-invested, or pledged to co-invest, with the Saudi government in SoftBank Vision Fund.

Context: At the time of the alleged hack, NSO Group was owned by private equity firm Francisco Partners, whose investors include some of America's largest public and corporate pension funds.

  • One could forgive Francisco if somehow it didn't realize that NSO's technology could be used for nefarious purposes, except that it absolutely knew (at least by 2017, when it was revealed that NSO software was used by the Mexican government to spy on journalists and anti-corruption advocates).
  • Francisco, which also briefly employed Michael Flynn, yesterday continued its years-long practice of hiding behind "no comment" when it comes to NSO Group, which in early 2019 was sold back to the company's founders and European private equity firm Novalpina.

Yes, but: Again, the Saudis deny any involvement. And there are some unanswered technical questions from the leaked forensics report, including a lack of malware found on Bezos' phone and no certainty on where the extracted data went.

The bottom line: This incident, if verified, touches the highest levels of American power, both private and public. It's impossible to imagine that Twitter denials and buyout baron evasion will suffice.

Go deeper: Bezos tweets image from Khashoggi memorial amid MBS hacking allegations

Go deeper

3 mins ago - Health

U.S. ahead of pace on vaccines

A health care worker administers a dose of the Moderna vaccine in Ruleville, Mississippi. Photo: Rory Doyle/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The U.S. is now vaccinating an average of 2 million people a day, up from 1.3 million in early February.

Why it matters: That puts us on track to hit President Biden's goal of 100 million doses a month ahead of schedule.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Harris breaks tie as Senate proceeds with lengthy debate on COVID relief bill

Photo: Oliver Contreras/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Senate on Thursday voted 51-50 — with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie — to proceed to debate on President Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue package, likely setting up a final vote this weekend.

The state of play: Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) is forcing the Senate clerk to read the entire 628-page bill on the floor, a procedural move that will likely add 10 hours to the 20 hours already allotted for debate.

3 hours ago - World

Netanyahu campaigns against Biden's plan to save Iran deal

Netanyahu campaigns at a gym last month. Photo: Pool/AFP via Getty

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indirectly criticized the Biden administration for its intention to return to the Iran nuclear deal and told his supporters he was prepared to "stand against the entire world" to stop it.

Why it matters: This is a major change of tune for Netanyahu, who had been careful in his statements on the Iran deal and avoided publicly criticizing President Biden. The statement was part of Netanyahu's attempt to rally his base ahead of Israel's election on March 23.