Rep. Matt Gaetz Says Pensacola Shooting Must 'Inform' U.S.-Saudi Relations

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) said Sunday that a deadly shooting perpetrated by a Saudi gunman at his state’s Pensacola naval base should influence U.S. interactions with the kingdom.

“That is the message I directly delivered to the Saudi ambassador when she called to offer her condolences,” the congressman said, adding that he “made the point as clearly as I possibly could that we want no interference from the kingdom” as authorities investigate the matter.

Gaetz noted that Saudi Ambassador Reema bint Bandar al-Saud gave him “every assurance” that the kingdom would keep its hands off the investigation when the two spoke on Saturday.

On Friday, Mohammed Alshamrani, a member of the Saudi Air Force, opened fire at the aviation school, killing three students and injuring at least eight others before a police deputy fatally shot him. 

Gaetz has repeatedly described the murders an act of terrorism and said he stressed to President Donald Trump the need for a more comprehensive review of the Saudi training program.  

At a national defense forum at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on Saturday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he could not yet say whether the shootings were an act of terrorism.

“I think we need to let the investigators of the FBI do its work and tell us, get us the facts and we’ll work out from there,” he said.

Esper noted that he has ordered a review of the Defense Department’s vetting procedures for foreign nationals entering the U.S. for training.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) has also been reluctant to label the violence as terrorism, telling CBS News’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday that “it’s too early to say.”

“We’re going to press Saudi Arabia to do a full investigation on their end even as we do one on ours,” he said.

Schiff, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, echoed Esper’s vow to reconsider the candidate selection process for the program in which the gunman was training.

National security adviser Robert O’Brien told “Face the Nation” in a subsequent interview that Friday’s event “appears to be a terrorist attack” but that “we don’t know yet if he was acting alone.”

In the wake of the attack, Trump tweeted that King Salman “called to express his sincere condolences” and said “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.”

Trump’s apparently warm relationship with the kingdom has spurred criticism especially in light of its catastrophic regime war in Yemen and the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which the American intelligence community believes was carried out at the behest of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. 

On Sunday, Schiff took direct aim at Trump for “trying to speak for” the kingdom rather than “pressing the Saudi government for answers.”

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