Dec 8, 2019

Republicans press Trump on Saudi response

Trump with Saudi King Salman. Photo: Bandar Algaloud / Saudi Kingdom Council / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Republican lawmakers from Florida who are strong allies of President Trump are pressing the administration to respond more aggressively after a Saudi Air Force officer gunned down three U.S. sailors on Friday at a naval base in Pensacola, Florida.

Driving the news: Florida Sen. Rick Scott told Fox News "we need to suspend this program" of training foreign nationals on military bases while the administration reviews the circumstances that allowed the Saudi Air Force officer to murder U.S. sailors at the naval base in Pensacola.

  • President Trump and Defense Secretary Mark Esper both said they would review the foreign nationals' training program in light of the attack.

Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, whose congressional district includes the Pensacola base, said on ABC's "This Week" that the Saudi attack was an "act of terrorism" and that the shooting should "inform our ongoing relationship with Saudi Arabia."

  • Both Gaetz and Scott have urged the Saudis to fully cooperate with the investigation and not to interfere in any way with U.S. law enforcement's questioning of Saudis who may have knowledge of the attack.

Behind the scenes: Trump immediately struck a conciliatory tone toward King Salman of Saudi Arabia. A senior administration official said the president's initial tweet, after his phone call with King Salman, was ill-advised given it came before law enforcement had established the facts about the shooter's motives or whether other Saudis were involved in planning the attack.

  • "King Salman of Saudi Arabia just called to express his sincere condolences and give his sympathies to the families and friends of the warriors who were killed and wounded in the attack that took place in Pensacola, Florida," Trump tweeted on Friday.
  • "The King said that the Saudi people are greatly angered by the barbaric actions of the shooter, and that this person in no way shape or form represents the feelings of the Saudi people who love the American people."

The official said more skepticism was warranted — even though Saudi Arabia is an important Middle East ally who helps counter Iran — given America's complicated recent history with the kingdom.

  • 15 of the 19 al-Qaeda terrorists who staged the 9/11 attacks were Saudis. And some members of Congress have been pressing the Trump administration to reevaluate its relationship with Saudi Arabia in light of the kingdom's bombing of civilians in Yemen and murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

Go deeper: What we know so far about the Pensacola attack

Go deeper

Pensacola Naval Air Station shooting: What we know so far

The Pensacola Naval Air Station main gate, Pensacola, Florida. Photo: Josh Brasted/Getty Images

Attorney General William Barr concluded that last month's shooting at Pensacola Naval Air Station was an "act of terrorism."

What we know: A gunman identified as Mohammed Alshamrani opened fire at Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida, killing three before he was killed by a sheriff’s deputy, per AP. Alshamrani, a second lieutenant in the Royal Saudi Air Force, was attending a pilot training program at the base.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Jan 13, 2020

Pentagon to review international student vetting in wake of Pensacola attack

Photo: Josh Brasted/Getty Images

The Pentagon is ordering a review of vetting for international students who participate in U.S. military training programs in the wake of an attack by a Saudi Air Force lieutenant that left three dead at Naval Air Station Pensacola last week, the AP reports.

The big picture: Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist signed a memo halting all flight and operation training for Saudi Arabian military students in the U.S, per the AP. Approximately 300 Saudi military aviation students at three U.S. bases were indefinitely barred from flying on Tuesday as part of a "safety stand-down," according to a Navy spokesperson.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Dec 10, 2019

Washington Post responds to Saudi Arabia's Khashoggi death sentences

Jamal Khashoggi. Photo: Mohammed Al-Shaikh/AFP via Getty Images

Washington Post publisher Fred Ryan responded Monday to a Saudi Arabian court's decision to sentence five people to death for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, saying those at the top of the Saudi government "continue to escape responsibility" for the murder.

Why it matters: The Saudi government continues to deny that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had any involvement in the assassination, despite the CIA concluding with "high confidence" last year that he ordered the assassination.

Go deeperArrowDec 23, 2019