• Transcript
  • Show Notes

On this week’s episode of Stay Tuned, “The Death of Jamal Khashoggi,” Preet answers listener questions about whether those who have been pardoned can still invoke the Fifth Amendment. 

Then, Preet is joined by Bryan Fogel, the director of The Dissident, a powerful new documentary that investigates the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the prevalence of human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia. 

In the Stay Tuned bonus, Preet asks Fogel how he went from stand-up comedy to directing news-making documentaries about authoritarian regimes. 

To listen, try the CAFE Insider membership free for two weeks and get access to the full archive of exclusive content, including the CAFE Insider podcast co-hosted by Preet and Anne Milgram. 

Sign up to receive the CAFE Brief, a weekly newsletter featuring analysis by Elie Honig, a weekly roundup of politically charged legal news, and historical lookbacks that help inform our current political challenges.

As always, tweet your questions to @PreetBharara with hashtag #askpreet, email us at [email protected], or call 669-247-7338 to leave a voicemail.

Stay Tuned with Preet is produced by CAFE Studios. 

Executive Producer: Tamara Sepper; Senior Editorial Producer: Adam Waller; Technical Director: David Tatasciore; Audio Producer: Matthew Billy; Editorial Producers: David Kurlander, Noa Azulai, Sam Ozer-Staton.

REFERENCES & SUPPLEMENTAL MATERIALS

Q&A: 

  • Frank O. Bowman, “An Impeached and Convicted Trump Could Still Run in 2020. Here’s How to Stop Him,” Washington Post, 11/19/2019
  • Eugene Volokh, “If You’re Pardoned, Can You Be Compelled to Testify About Your Crime?” Washington Post, 6/2/2017
  • Asha Rangappa Tweet on the Fifth Amendment, Twitter, 12/23/2020
  • Elie Honig Thread on the Fifth Amendment, Twitter, 12/23/2020

THE INTERVIEW:

  • Nicole Sperling, “An Oscar Winner Made a Khashoggi Documentary. Streaming Services Didn’t Want It,” New York Times, 12/24/2018

THE DISSIDENT

KHASHOGGI’S LIFE

  • Mark Landler, “In Extraordinary Statement, Trump Stands With Saudis Despite Khashoggi Killing,” New York Times, 11/20/2018
  • “Indiana State University group to honor Jamal Khashoggi,” Associated Press, 12/14/2018
  • Ben Hubbard and David D. Kirkpatrick, “For Khashoggi, a Tangled Mix of Royal Service and Islamist Sympathies,” New York Times, 10/14/2018

MBS

  • Thomas Friedman, “Saudi Arabia’s Arab Spring, at Last,” New York Times, 11/23/2017
  • Bradley Hope and Justin Scheck, “A Saudi Prince’s Attempt to Silence Critics on Twitter,” WIRED, 9/1/2020
  • Peter Beaumont, “The truth about Twitter, Facebook and the uprisings in the Arab world,” The Guardian, 2/25/2011
  • Patrice Taddonio, “How Saudi Arabia Weaponized Twitter to Target MBS Critics,” PBS Frontline, 11/7/2019

OMAR ABDULAZIZ

  • Kayla Hounsell, “Thousands of Saudi students remain in Canada, despite Riyadh’s pledge to axe scholarships,” CBC News, 5/21/2019
  • Stephanie Kirchgaessner, “Exclusive: Saudi dissident warned by Canadian police he is a target,” The Guardian, 6/21/2020
  • Louisa Loveluck and Ghalia al-Alwani, “Saudi electronic army floods Twitter with insults and mistruths after Khashoggi’s disappearance,” Washington Post, 10/19/2018
  • Bel Trew, “Bee stung: Was Jamal Khashoggi the first casualty in a Saudi cyberwar?” The Independent, 10/25/2018

HATICE CENGIZ

  • Hatice Cengiz, “Hatice Cengiz: 500 days without love or justice,” Washington Post, 2/13/2020
  • Hatice Cengiz, “We have been deprived of Jamal Khashoggi’s voice. But his silence says it all,” Washington Post, 10/1/2020
  • Julian E. Barnes, “Fiancée Sues Saudi Crown Prince Over Khashoggi Killing,” New York Times, 10/20/2020

THE KILLING 

  • “Audio transcripts of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder revealed,” Al-Jazeera, 9/10/2019
  • Jane Corbin, “The secret tapes of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder,” BBC, 9/29/2019
  • “Jamal Khashoggi: All you need to know about Saudi journalist’s death,” BBC, 7/2/2020
  • Rachel Kraus, “Separating tech fact from the fiction around Jamal Khashoggi’s Apple Watch,” Mashable, 10/13/2018
  • Martin Chulov and Bethan McKernan, “Jamal Khashoggi: details of alleged Saudi hit squad emerge,” The Guardian, 10/10/2018
  • Mark Mazzetti, “Year Before Killing, Saudi Prince Told Aide He Would Use ‘a Bullet’ on Jamal Khashoggi,” New York Times, 2/7/2019
  • “Has ‘the sacrificial lamb’ arrived?: U.N. cites new recordings in Khashoggi murder,” Reuters, 6/19/2019

THE COVER-UP 

  • Ishaan Tharoor, “Trump joins Saudi Arabia’s Khashoggi coverup,” Washington Post, 10/16/2018
  • David D. Kirkpatrick and Ben Hubbard, “Jamal Khashoggi Body Double Created False Trail in Turkey, Surveillance Images Suggest,” New York Times, 10/22/2018
  • Christopher Torchia, “Turkey, where Saudi writer died, has culture of surveillance,” Associated Press, 10/22/2018
  • Selin Girit, “Why is Turkey standing up for Qatar?” BBC, 6/14/2017

DISTRIBUTION STRUGGLES

  • Katie Kilkenny, “Bryan Fogel on Hollywood Reticence to Distribute ‘The Dissident’ and Companies Looking “the Other Way” on Human Rights Abuses,” The Hollywood Reporter, 12/23/2020
  • Mia Galuppo, “Sundance: Hillary Clinton Talks Jamal Khashoggi Doc ‘The Dissident,’” The Hollywood Reporter, 1/27/2020
  • Bill Chappell, “Saudi Activist Who Urged Women’s Driving Rights Gets Nearly 6-Year Prison Term,” NPR, 12/28/2020
  • Itay Hod, “Penske Media Silent on $200 Million Saudi Investment After Jamal Khashoggi’s Disappearance,” The Wrap, 10/15/2018

JEFF BEZOS 

  • Leah Asmelash, “Jeff Bezos tells Jamal Khashoggi’s fiancée one year after his killing, ‘You are not alone,’” CNN, 10/2/2019
  • Jeffrey Dastin, “Amazon launches Saudi Arabia shopping site despite CEO’s dispute with kingdom,” Reuters, 6/17/2020
  • “We don’t know whether MBS hacked Jeff Bezos’s phone. We do know spyware is everywhere,” Washington Post, 1/26/2020
  • Tim Arango, “Oprah, Rupert Murdoch, Harvard: Saudi Prince’s U.S. Tour,” New York Times, 4/18/2018
  • Stephen M. Walt, “Who’s More Powerful, Jeff Bezos or Mohammed bin Salman? Neither,” Foreign Policy, 1/27/2020

TRUMP AND BIDEN 

  • Burgess Everett and Marianne Levine, “Republicans rage at ‘guilty’ Saudi crown prince,” Politico, 12/14/2018
  • Merrit Kennedy, “Trump Vetoes Bills Intended To Block Arms Sales To Saudi Arabia,” NPR, 7/25/2019
  • Josh Rogin, “Biden’s promises to give Jamal Khashoggi justice will be tested soon,” Washington Post, 12/17/2020

BUTTON

  • Jon Ossoff on Stay Tuned with Preet, CAFE, 12/10/2020
  • Alana Wise, “Democrat Raphael Warnock Wins Georgia Runoff,” NPR, 1/6/2021

Why couldn’t Oscar-winning director Bryan Fogel get distribution for his documentary on the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi?

Fogel’s documentary is a chilling indictment of Saudi Arabia’s influence over American politics and business.

After Bryan Fogel won the 2018 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for Icarus—an examination of Russian doping at the 2014 Sochi Olympics—he turned to an even more controversial topic: the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul. His resultant film, The Dissident, holds no punches in its examination of Saudi Arabia’s crushing of dissent and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s involvement in Khashoggi’s brutal murder. 

Despite critical acclaim, Fogel had a profoundly frustrating time trying to secure a distributor for The Dissident. He talks with Preet about the difficulty in speaking truth to Saudi Arabian power and the impact he hopes his film will have on the cause of human rights around the world. 

TRANSCRIPT:

Preet Bharara:

Hey folks, before we get to today’s show, which I think is a great one with documentary filmmaker, Bryan Fogel. I want to just say a couple of things. So we make the show in bits and pieces. I record a Q and A, I do an interview with a guest, I say some things at the end of the show, and we wrapped all of that by late morning on Wednesday, January 6th, at which point I was in a pretty great mood because of what happened in Georgia, because of what I see is happening in the justice department. And then we wrapped everything and the day wore on, and then we had this craziness in the Capitol, which has been very jarring, very shocking, and in some ways disgraceful. And so I just wanted to let folks know that the show you’re about to listen to was completely prepared and produced before the events of Wednesday afternoon.

When we saw our democracy attacked, our Capitol building stormed, tear gas used, there was an armed standoff on the house floor. Mike Pence was taken to a secret location. Kamala Harris too. Capitol police seemed overwhelmed. Members of the US Congress were sheltering in place. This was an armed insurrection. A woman is reported this Wednesday evening was killed. And all of it in my view was provoked by Donald J. Trump. It was stoked by Donald J. Trump. It was incited by Donald J. Trump. I find it sickening and saddening, it’s shameful, and disgraceful. I really don’t have enough adjectives and words to describe what happened today.

What I do know is we’re two weeks away from, I think, a rescue from some of what’s been going on. And so I just wanted to know what happened today and maybe offer some prayers for the country. And though I was very disturbed and I’m a little bit worried about what’s going to happen over the next two weeks. I ultimately have great optimism about the country and the direction in which we’re going, and I hope we all get there together. And I’ll see you on the other side. Now enjoy the show. From CAFE, welcome to Stay Tuned. I’m Preet Bharara.

Bryan Fogel:

I’d rather tell stories like this, then worry about consequences or not even that, worry about things that haven’t happened nor do I believe they will happen because I still believe in our democracy. I still believe that we do have safety in America.

Preet Bharara:

That’s Bryan Fogel. He’s the director of The Dissident, a powerful new documentary about the killing of Saudi Arabian journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. We discuss Fogel’s journey to making the film and the story of Jamal Khashoggi’s final years from exile to his eventual murder. We also talk about the difficulties Fogel has faced in distributing The Dissident and what those struggles say about Saudi Arabia’s influence on American business and politics. That’s coming up, stay tuned.

Preet Bharara:

We’ve gotten multiple questions relating to some of the pardons that president Trump issued to his allies. Here are two that are related to each other. This one comes in a tweet from Twitter user [inaudible 00:03:15], who asks, “Can friends of the president who had been pardoned still be legally compelled to testify?” And another from Twitter user tek818, who asks somewhat tartly quote, “Now that humanoid scum, Paul Manafort and Roger Stone,” that’s your words, not my words, “Now that they have been pardoned, can they be held in contempt indefinitely if they refuse to cooperate with depositions or testifying? Imprisoned for perjury, if they lie? #askpreet.” Well, to answer the last bit of that first, yeah, people can be charged with perjury if they lie, if there’s an ongoing investigation, and if it’s in connection with a federal investigation or for that matter of state investigation, under various statutes, both state and federal.

Now there’s some confusion over this point and lots of people have been pointing out that it is a general matter, once you’ve been pardoned for a particular crime, you’re no longer in jeopardy. And so you don’t have the right to invoke the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination. And so you can be compelled to talk about what you did with respect to that conduct and what more importantly other people may have done, because that’s why you want to question them to find out about other people’s involvement in the criminal conduct. And people do rightly point out that in certain circumstances, having been pardoned, removes any risk of your going to prison. The self protection is no longer required under the Fifth Amendment. The problem is we have multiple jurisdictions in this country and we have federalism. And so if there’s any argument, it doesn’t have to be that strong an argument because we take the Fifth Amendment very seriously.

If there’s any argument that you still might be in criminal jeopardy because of an action that could be taken by a state. In other words, by a local District Attorney’s office or Attorney General’s office, even if you’ve been pardoned for a federal crime, you probably still have the right to invoke the Fifth Amendment. So for example, there was a pardon for Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign manager for crimes that he was charged with federally. As you may know there’s a possibility of proceedings against him in New York. It’s a little bit complicated what’s been going on there, but if the nature of the questioning of Paul Manafort would be related to that conduct for which he is potentially still in jeopardy in New York, he would still have the right to invoke the Fifth Amendment. So the general point is correct, but it depends on the facts and circumstances and the particular person and the particular jeopardy they might face outside of the federal system. Stay tuned. There’s more coming up after this.

***

My guest this week is Bryan Fogel. The Director of The Dissident. Fogle spent a year and a half making a film about Washington Post journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, and his brutal murder at the hands of the Saudi Arabian government. Fogel won the Oscar for best documentary in 2018 for his film Icarus about Russian doping at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. His new film is a chilling indictment of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his enablers. And as a heads up for listeners, there are some graphic and upsetting moments in our conversation about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. That’s next, stay tuned. Bryan Fogel, welcome to the show.

Bryan Fogel:

Good to be talking to you Preet.

Preet Bharara:

So first, congratulations, not only on the new film that we’re going to talk about, an important film, The Dissident, but also on your Oscar win for your last film, Icarus. About doping in the Russian sports world. I think people have a general sense of what The Dissident is about. And so I guess my first question is how’s it doing in Saudi Arabia, crushing at the box office there?

Bryan Fogel:

I don’t think it’s in Saudi Arabia. I think that the only way the film will make it into Saudi Arabia in light of not having a global streamer is through thumb drives or some other elicit mean hopefully there’ll be a lot of Saudis on VPNs finding ways to get the film.

Preet Bharara:

Yeah, that was my poor attempt at an opening joke because we’re going to be quite serious. We’re going to be quite serious here. So can I just indulge for a moment in my reaction to the film? So your folks were kind enough to send a screener to me and my team so we could watch it. So I could ask you intelligent questions about the film, which opens by the way, I should say it is in limited release at theaters, but before I get into the analysis of the film and the discussion of it, when will people be able to watch it?

Bryan Fogel:

So it will be on a video on demand platforms beginning, January 8th. And so that means like you can go on to any place where you can rent a film, Comcast, DirecTV, Apple movies, Amazon, X-Box, Roku, et cetera.

Preet Bharara:

So Friday, January 8th it’ll be available and people have a lot of those streaming services now because that’s all we do during the pandemic.

Bryan Fogel:

Yeah. It will be available for rental on all the video on demand platform.

Preet Bharara:

So I watched it Saturday evening by myself, on my laptop, in my home office. And I expected to have a strong reaction because here on the podcast, and just generally, we’ve been covering the story since the beginning of the brutal assassination and dismembering, which is a word you hate to use, but it’s the accurate one, of Washington Post journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. And I was not prepared for how overwhelmed I would be. I had multiple emotions by the time the film was over, including anger, and sadness, and confusion, and I was very moved by it. When you finished it and put it together, do you as a filmmaker… are you so close to it that you don’t have that feeling? Or when you finally put it together, at least a full version of a draft, the whole two hours of it, did you and your team have a reaction to what you had produced?

Bryan Fogel:

The answer is yes. In, really, the year and a half of making the film I grew so close to Hatice Cengiz, Jamal’s fiance and to Omar Abdulaziz, the young Saudi [inaudible] living in Montreal, that Omar became like a brother, and sister, and Hatice became like a sister to me. And when you’re telling their stories and essentially embedding with them and spending days and weeks with them in their lives, you becomes so emotionally invested in what they’re going through as people. And I remember when one of my editors showed me the scene of Hatice, Jamal’s fiance, walking back into their condo that Jamal had bought for them in Istanbul. And she hadn’t been able to return there in the six months following his murder because technically they were not married yet.

Bryan Fogel:

And also it had been turned into a crime scene. And my editor showed me a cut of that scene of Hatice walking into that condo. And I just started boiling… I mean, just crying and it brought back the memory of that day when I was filming with her, as we opened the door to that condo. And I saw what had become a crime scene rather than what was going to be their home. And that was one of the hardest days of I’ve ever spent filming. And when I saw my editor put that together it just brought back how horrific this crime was and the emotional impact that it carried for those that loved Jamal. And certainly when you see the whole film, and I was able to watch it now a few times in front of an audience, it’s strange thinking that we, myself and my team of collaborators, somehow made that film and it feels kind of like an out-of-body experience.

Preet Bharara:

Well, that’s the interesting thing, Bryan, with respect to expectations for this film, I expected it to be part murder mystery. I expected it to be part political commentary, I guess a little bit international relations. But what I did not expect was it was going to be part love story. And so maybe let’s take a step back before we get to the crime that’s analyzing the film and the horrendous ness of it and the aftermath, let’s talk about who Jamal was. Could you describe him not just as a professional, but as a person?

Bryan Fogel:

Well, the key to me in making the film from the outset as the story of Jamal’s murder was unfolding global news around the world, there was a narrative that was starting to take hold, and that was that Jamal was Muslim brotherhood, that he was an ISIS sympathizer, that he was friends of Bin Ladin, that he hated Saudi Arabia. And there was a further narrative coming forward that Jamal basically deserved to be murdered and even Trump and some of his interviews had hinted to the fact that Jamal basically wasn’t a good guy. And so as I was kind of deciding whether or not I was going to take this on, what became very pivotal and important to me was two things, that I understood who Jamal was as a person.

Bryan Fogel:

And that I understood who Jamal was from his political point of view from his writings, from really whether or not this was somebody that I wanted to spend the next two years of my life, essentially defending. And so in the early days of taking on the project, which is a whole other story of how we came to access and trust, I brought on a couple Arabic speakers. And I told them, I said, “Look, what I want you to do is I want you to scour for interviews with Jamal.” Obviously he had done a lot of stuff in English, but tons of stuff in Arabic, “Find his writings, find his articles, and come back to me, essentially with an analysis and with a report. Basically, who is Jamal?”

Bryan Fogel:

And at the same time I was reading his writings in the Washington Post, but that was really the last year of his life. And as this kind of came back over the following weeks, what I saw was a guy who had a great sense of spirit who had a great sense of humor. In the film you see this introduction to him and he was shooting an interview and a cat jumps on his lap and for a moment you get to see his personality. A guy who was educated in the United States.

Bryan Fogel:

I mean, he was a guy who had Spent his life basically traveling back and forth between the United States and Saudi Arabia, who even owned an apartment in Virginia because of the amount of time he was spending in the United States, two of his children at the time of his death were living in the US, they’ve since returned to Saudi. And as I started to read his writings, this was not a radical, this was not a terrorist sympathizer or ISIS or anything like that. Yes, he met Bin Ladin, but a lot of people had met Bin Ladin in the ’80s. I mean, the United States was friends with Bin Ladin before the Taliban. We thought Bin Ladin was an ally. So-

Preet Bharara:

And his thinking changed over time, right? There was a time, we’ll get to this in due course, when he had a different view of Mohammed bin Salman, right?

Bryan Fogel:

Well and that was what was so kind of amazing is looking through the years of his Twitter feed, and then watching his interviews and his writings that when Mohammed bin Salman took power, Jamal from the beginning was very optimistic because here’s this young Prince, at the time I think MBS was like 29, 30 years old, and he was bringing forward reform and change and promising to bring Saudi Arabia into the modern era promising to open up Saudi Arabia to tourism, woman’s rights, music, culture, entertainment. And Jamal is a guy who had spent so much time in the West and the United States, had been advocating for that for years and had been advocating for a more moderate form of Islam. And so Jamal was incredibly supportive of MBS.

Bryan Fogel:

I mean, really, singing his praises. And what began to change for Jamal was what was going on behind the scenes. So the public persona is this great reformer, this guy who you can actually see wearing a suit, here and there who’s this young charismatic Prince. But behind the scenes, he’s cracking down on anybody and everyone, including all of Jamal’s friends who had a voice in that country as being journalists or writers. And so his opinion began to change. And that’s kind of a story that began the next couple of years of his life.

Preet Bharara:

Why was Jamal in the United States in the first place? There’s a point, I think in the movie where he’s asked a question and he says he doesn’t like to use the term living in exile. Why was he here?

Bryan Fogel:

Well, after MBS basically takes control, right, there is tremendous pressure being put on anybody who is a political thinker, a scholar, a journalist, a writer in Saudi Arabia to support MBS. And when I mean support MBS, silence was not a way of support. Meaning, these people were being pressured to go onto Twitter, which is where everybody gets their information in Saudi Arabia, or on public media, or on television and verbally, and in writing, tell the country how much they support MBS and what a great job he’s doing. And that if you don’t do that, you’re basically considered an outsider. So silence or not speaking nothing is considered negative. So the only way to support MBS is basically to be out there-

Preet Bharara:

You got to be a cheerleader. You got to be a cheerleader all the time.

Bryan Fogel:

… cheering him on, right?

Preet Bharara:

Can we pause on Twitter for a moment?

Bryan Fogel:

Sure.

Preet Bharara:

Because I was stunned by something. I have a very complicated relationship with Twitter. It’s too many people. There’s some good things. There’s some terrible things. It gets misused. And we could do an entire show on the issue of whether or not folks who thought that social media was going to be democratizing and going to give voice to people who were like Jamal, for example, people who were into reform. And instead the reverse of that has happened in a lot of places in particularly someplace like Saudi Arabia, but the reach of Twitter which people in America may not appreciate, you said it in passing a second ago, I think you have a stat in the movie that suggests something like two out of 10 people in the US on Twitter, on a regular basis. And in Saudi Arabia, it’s eight out of 10. So there’s tremendous pervasiveness of that medium, it’s the dominant one essentially.

Bryan Fogel:

Well, and the reason for this is… what’s very interesting is I think most of us in the country until four years ago kind of thought of Twitter is like, you post an opinion, it’s not really a means of power. And what we saw with Trump was basically the entire presidency, everything that he was thinking at any moment of the day became a tweet. And it also-

Preet Bharara:

[crosstalk] has changed personnel sometimes.

Bryan Fogel:

Right. And it also became a massive conduit of false information. Because the platform until very recently, really largely due to Trump was not policed at all. But when you look at Twitter in other countries, the Arab spring happened because of Twitter. So here in the United States, we take this idea of freedom of press, freedom of journalism, sending a tweet, right? Or sending out a tweet, “I don’t like Trump,” or, “I believe all cars should be blue as basically a basic human right.” But in authoritarian regimes such as Saudi Arabia, that right is not granted. And so what all those activists all over the Middle East realized is that they could basically get onto Twitter and they could create fake accounts because you Preet, or me Bryan could each have 200 Twitter accounts under different names, use a VPN so it’s not tracked, right?

Bryan Fogel:

And basically put out anything we want. And so the Arab spring in 2013, basically starts as tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of activists basically take to Twitter and plan how to organize, how to meet into Harris Square, how to create change, how to create a revolution. And what Saudi Arabia, and the [inaudible 00:21:49], and these countries in the Gulf that had the real power in the money realized is that Twitter was a weapon that essentially people could take to Twitter and essentially overthrow a government. So Saudi Arabia developed basically, and really under MBS, a tactic of how to basically take control of Twitter, which was the public narrative in the country. And what they did and have still done is they hired thousands and thousands and thousands of Saudi citizens, paid them to create hundreds and thousands and tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of false Twitter accounts, and basically crushed any form of dissent, any form of free speech, any form of criticism of MBS.

Bryan Fogel:

And so that’s the Saudi Twitter feed, if you’re in Saudi Arabia, your Twitter feed is just NBS rocks, MBS rules, MBS is God, MBS is awesome, MBS is the best looking guy in the world, there’s no greater leader than MBS. And anybody who has anything ill to say, if they don’t find themselves arrested, they find that tweet essentially under 600 comments of, “You’re an asshole, you should die.”

Preet Bharara:

They perfected the ratio, in other words.

Bryan Fogel:

Exactly. And that is what they were doing to Jamal Khashoggi. As he puts himself into self exile, starts opening up. His opinion starts openly dissenting and disagreeing with MBS. These trolls are on his Twitter not only crushing his voice, but he actually begins to believe that he is an enemy of the people and that his own people hate him, even though he has 2 million Twitter followers and had been such a respected voice.

Preet Bharara:

And you describe the approach by MBS in Saudi Arabia, there’s a term you use to describe all the trolls, right, the flies?

Bryan Fogel:

The flies.

Preet Bharara:

The flies. And then what’s the counterforce to the flies?

Bryan Fogel:

The bees.

Preet Bharara:

The bees?

Bryan Fogel:

The bees, and basically-

Preet Bharara:

So the bees and the flies. So explain just briefly, then I want to get to the attack. What’s the job of the bees?

Bryan Fogel:

So Omar Abdulaziz who is now 28. 28 year old self exiled, Saudi dissident living in Montreal. Long story short, he goes to Montreal when he’s 19 years old because Saudi Arabia pays for the education of its youth in Western countries. And it’s changing now, but if you’re a Saudi and you’re 18 years old and you want to go to school, let’s say in Canada or in the United States, the Saudi government will pay for your education as long as you get in and you have a good family under the agreement that at the end of your schooling, you’re going to come back to Saudi Arabia and help build the country so that it’s not reliant on oil. And so there’s tens of thousands of Saudis studying in Canada, well they were, not anymore, in the United States et cetera. So Omar goes to Montreal to study, and as he gets to Montreal, the first home that he lives in is with the Jewish family, because they’re like exchange students. And so Omar’s mind is kind of blown.

Bryan Fogel:

All of a sudden he’s living in Montreal, in a Western society, which Canada’s obviously, a liberal right democracy, Montreal and the French being even probably even more liberal than the rest of Canada, he’s living in-

Preet Bharara:

I believe women can drive in Canada.

Bryan Fogel:

Right, women can drive, he’s living in Jewish home and suddenly Omar goes, “Wait, I like Jews. This democracy thing is really cool. Wow, women have rights. People can have free speech.” And Omar starts to realize that this isn’t the case in his own country and that he needs to say something about it. And he goes back to Saudi Arabia because his mother’s ill. And while he’s there, because he had been tweeting kind of anti things against the government, the police call his father who actually had worked for Saudi intelligence, which is the only reason why Omar was able to get out of the country, and basically says, “Hey, you need to bring your son into to the police station tomorrow. We need to talk to him.”

Bryan Fogel:

And the father knowing all well what this means, basically goes to Omar, “You’re either going in there tomorrow and you’re going to be silent for the rest of your life. You’re going to have a travel ban on you. You ain’t going anywhere, or you get out of this country now.” And Omar leaves. And this was eight years ago. So he leaves Saudi Arabia. He goes back to Canada, puts himself into self exile and starts raising his voice. And as he raises his voice, he starts gaining tens of thousands. And then hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter, ultimately becoming friends with Jamal. And what Omar starts to realize is that the Saudis are manipulating Twitter. That Twitter is no longer free. That basically anything Omar writes on Twitter, that isn’t pro-government, suddenly, there’s thousands of comments.

Preet Bharara:

Those are the flies. Those are the flies.

Bryan Fogel:

Those are the flies. And so Omar comes up with the idea that the way we’re going to combat the Saudi flies is we are going to create our own army and we’re going to call it the bees. And the bees are the good guys. And they’re basically going to do the exact same thing as the Saudis are doing, except they’re going to employ all of the Saudi dissidents around the world, all of the youth in Saudi, give them SIM cards to put into their phones so they can’t track their location, or where they’re tweeting from. And every time a fly sends out a tweet, the bees will attack these fake news and false narrative tweets and see to it that their opinions make its way through and start trending on to Twitter.

Preet Bharara:

Right. So that an observation, or a tweet, or a message from a bee doesn’t get totally submerged. It survive because not totally overwhelmed by the ratio.

Bryan Fogel:

Exactly, exactly. It’s basically fighting fire with fire.

Preet Bharara:

All right. Or fighting flies with bees. I don’t know if it actually works that way. So Jamal is in the US, he’s writing for the Washington Post. He has a pretty prominent perch. It’s not a small outlet. He has a lot of fame and recognition. And so you would think a person like that has some soft protection because of who he is. And as you described, and as I’ve mentioned, part of this film and the story of Jamal is a love story. He falls in love. You interviewed the fiance at some length. And so in connection with getting married, Jamal travels to Turkey, to Istanbul, why does he travel to Istanbul?

Bryan Fogel:

Well, to speak on the love story, in crafting the film, what became very important for me was I wanted audiences to fall in love with Jamal, because if you fall in love with Jamal then you care about Jamal. And if you care about Jamal, then you want to fight for justice for him. And for the tens of thousands of Saudi political prisoners who sit in jails being tortured, or without charges, or beheaded simply for having an opinion. And so what was key to that was Hatice Cengiz, his fiance, the woman that he had decided that he wanted to marry. And before I speak on Hatice and why he’s going into Istanbul, when Jamal fled Saudi Arabia and decided to move to Washington, and starts writing for the Washington Post, at the time he wasn’t thinking about getting divorced.

Bryan Fogel:

He had a wife of many, many years that he loved, they had a good relationship. But of course as he leaves the country in a hurry, basically believing that he’s going to be arrested and thrown into jail as his other friends, he goes without his wife and months later he’s in Washington. And the story that I had been told that, I can’t verify, but I’ve heard this through his friends, is basically the wife apparently was going to come visit him. And they basically intercept the wife and I don’t know the exact details. They bring her in and they interrogate her. And they basically say, “You are going to call your husband and you are going to get a divorce. You are going to demand a divorce.” Because in Saudi Arabia, the only person that can grant a divorce is the man. It’s not a mutual decision. A woman can’t get a divorce unless the man says you can have a divorce, right?

Preet Bharara:

Even if that man is an enemy of the state.

Bryan Fogel:

Exactly.

Preet Bharara:

Which is kind of interesting.

Bryan Fogel:

So the story that I was told is that his wife basically is there with the police, with the intelligence, and basically calls Jamal and says, “Jamal, you have to grant me a divorce because they aren’t going to let me travel, they’re going to go after us, they’re going to destroy us.” And Jamal grants his wife the divorce, knowing that that is the best thing for her, that that’s the only way that she can essentially survive. And he’s incredibly lonely. He’s living by himself, he’s in self exile. The country that he loves, he can no longer return to.

Bryan Fogel:

And he meets Hatice Cengiz in Istanbul at a conference that he is speaking at. And at this time, this is now in May 2018, Jamal has really kind of started speaking all over the world at conferences where he’s basically going, “Don’t believe what MBS is showing you through his PR organizations. But what’s really going on in this country is the purge of a Ritz-Carlton, is to crack down on dissent. My friends are arrested. And by the way, Trump is in his pocket.” And so he’s speaking at a conference this conference basically hosted by the Al Sharq Forum, which is a form that brings together philosophers and journalists, and in the Middle East to speak about what’s going on in their country and Hatice is a writer and she had spent four years living in Oman basically writing about Oman.

Bryan Fogel:

And she goes to interview Jamal, and Jamal and her start talking. And clearly there is a spark there. And over the next several months, they start spending more and more time. Jamal starts spending more time in Istanbul and decides that he wants to marry Hatice. And the one conduit is under Turkish law, basically an order to be married in Turkey and to a Turkish woman. If you’ve been married, you need to prove, you need to show that you are in fact divorced. So in order for them to be married Jamal needed to show paperwork that he was divorced. And to get that paperwork, he needed to go to the consulate to obtain that paperwork so that he can marry Hatice.

Preet Bharara:

And that’s the consulate in Istanbul?

Bryan Fogel:

That’s correct.

Preet Bharara:

The awful day in question October 2nd, 2018, when he goes to try to get that paperwork, what’s your understanding and what’s Hatice’s understanding of whether Jamal thought there was any danger to him in going into a Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul?

Bryan Fogel:

Well, on that day, there were two things leading up to this. So Jamal initially tries to get the divorce paperworks from the consulate in Washington, because he had been spending most of his time in Washington, DC. That’s where his residence was. He had friends in Istanbul, had spent a lot of time in Istanbul, but he was living in Washington, right? So he goes into the consulate in Washington, DC, and he actually meets with Mohammed bin Salman’s brother, who at the time is the ambassador to the United States for Saudi Arabia.

Bryan Fogel:

And these two know each other because Jamal was in the Royal circle, he was in the inner circle, right? So he meets with his brother, and his brother says, “Jamal, I’d love to help you, but you can’t get the papers here. You need to get them in Istanbul, right? But don’t worry, there’s not going to be a problem.” And so Jamal leaves this meeting with Mohammed bin Salman’s brother in Washington, and feeling like everything’s fine. There’s not going to be a big deal. So he goes to Istanbul, he goes to-

Preet Bharara:

Was that naive?

Bryan Fogel:

I think it was naive, but I think that Jamal had viewed himself for so long kind of part of that inner circle. I mean, he knew these people, he knew them personally which is also probably one of the main reasons why they wanted to murder him silence because there was a personal connection there because he had worked for the family, the Royal family.

Preet Bharara:

So he was viewed as a bigger betrayer than the average person?

Bryan Fogel:

By probably a multiple of a hundred or a thousand. This was an insider who had broke rank. This was an insider who was now basically a dissident.

Preet Bharara:

So it sounds like what you’re saying is he had no basis given those relationships and given his own understanding that his actual life was in danger when he walked into the consulate on October 2nd of 2018?

Bryan Fogel:

Well, yes and no. So he goes to that consulate a week earlier to obtain the paperwork for the first time in Istanbul. And he’s greeted by the consulate general and everybody’s really nice. Well they had already been tipped off from Mohammed bin Salman’s brother from the Washington consulate that Jamal was going to be coming to Istanbul. And when you see the full transcript, which Turkey provided to me which is a whole other story of how I got that transcript, but in that transcript, sure enough, there’s a phone call where after he enters the consulate for the first time, they call back to [inaudible] and they go, “What do you know? He just walked into the consulate.” And so there was already when he walked into that concept for the first time they told him, “Hey, we’re happy to get to the paperwork. We don’t have it ready. You need to come back in six days and get it.”

Bryan Fogel:

And they told him that basically, because there was an order up on high that when Jamal comes into the consulate seeking the paperwork, you let us know and don’t give it to him. So they tell him to come back six days later and in that period of time is as they put together and plan what is going to be his murder. But so he left that consulate. Now he’d been to the consulate twice. He’d been into Washington. Everyone had been nice to him, told him to go to Istanbul. He goes to Istanbul. They’re nice to him again. And they say, “Hey, come back. It’s not going to be a problem.” So he leaves there thinking it’s going to be okay. But when he walks into that consulate on October 2nd, 2018, clearly he is concerned because he does a few things. First of all, he has Hatice with him and he tells her-

Preet Bharara:

But she doesn’t come inside, correct?

Bryan Fogel:

She’s not allowed inside. She’s not a Saudi citizen. Only Saudi citizens are allowed inside the Saudi consulate. So she’s told that she has to wait, but he says, “Hey, come with me, wait for me.” And he leaves his phones, both of his phones and his computer with Hatice. And he also gives Hatice instructions that if I’m not back in an hour, two hours, you need to call Yasin Aktay who was part of the president Erdogan’s political party. And here’s the number of my friend. And here’s the number of [my other friend], and these are the people you need to start calling. So clearly, Jamal-

Preet Bharara:

But that may have been a concern that he could potentially be detained, not necessarily concerned that he was going to be killed in cold blood?

Bryan Fogel:

Absolutely. I don’t think he could have imagined that he was going to be murdered. I think he was thinking, “Hey, I might be detained or they might try to rendition me. They might try to-

Preet Bharara:

Back to Saudi Arabia.

Bryan Fogel:

… they might try to take me back to Saudi Arabia. I certainly don’t think that a murder even crossed his mind.

Preet Bharara:

So I want to talk about, because I think it’s important, what happens when he goes into the consulate and for some folks, this might be a little difficult to hear. And you I think have much more detail than people are familiar with, but I want to ask you a preliminary question. There are tapes of the encounter inside the consulate, and the transcript, which you may copious use of in the film also available. How is it that there are such tapes?

Bryan Fogel:

That is a great question.

Preet Bharara:

I’ve kept waiting for that to be explained in the film in it and it was not.

Bryan Fogel:

Well, I think as all intelligence organizations around the world, never tell you how they got their intelligence, because that would be basically like a breach of intelligence. So-

Preet Bharara:

But what I was going to ask is… one theory obviously is that many nations do this. They bug the embassies of other countries for intelligence purposes. But since that is somewhat well-known as a possibility in consulates and embassies throughout the world, and this I’m going to ask you this question more than once probably, what on earth were the Saudis thinking, given that there was a possibility that the Turks had eyes and ears potentially at the consulate? What were they thinking in undertaking this in another country?

Bryan Fogel:

Well, first of all to go back to the bug, right? I don’t know to this day, how the consulate was bugged. What I do know is that there was only one listening device, one bug in that consulate, and it was in the media room. It was in the room, which was the only room in that consulate where they could communicate securely via video, a video chat with Riyadh, with the kingdom. So there was a decision made that that was the room if there was going to be a bug in there to have a listening device. The second thing that is very interesting, that was not widely covered in the press, and that I found out really through the Turkish intelligence, because they didn’t come forward with this, is that the Saudis had actually sent a team of basically, bug experts to sweep the consulate for listening devices two days before Jamal was murdered. And they didn’t find this bug. So, it’s amazing that-

Preet Bharara:

Somebody’s getting fired.

Bryan Fogel:

Yeah, that they didn’t find this, but this was the only one.

Preet Bharara:

And you suggest that the reason, and this goes to who’s responsible and how high up it goes, that they chose the media room as the room in which to murder Jamal, because they might’ve been getting real-time direction from Riyadh as to that act, fair?

Bryan Fogel:

That is correct. And I’ll tell you two stories in regards to that. The first of which is when I was finally given the transcript, which is about 37 pages long, right after they murdered Jamal, there’s a break in the transcript of a couple hours. And it’s obvious there’s a break because the transcript is very detailed, numbered by episode, by time, by time code. And there’s this break in the transcript, and it happens right after Jamal has been murdered and they pull off his clothes and they are about to dismember him. And the story that I heard, and I certainly can’t confirm this because I have no idea is that after they murdered him and as they were dismembering him, they made a call back to Riyadh arguably to show either [inaudible] or MBS that Jamal was in fact dead and that they had in fact dismembered him.

Bryan Fogel:

There’s another part of the transcript which is very upsetting, is they’re cleaning up the mess after he’s been dismembered, they put his body into a number of basically, duffle bags, suitcases kind of thing. And there’s a bag that has his hands in it. And in the transcript, which is you see in the film, that bag is basically said, “No, you leave that for me, fingerprints. Those go to Riyadh.” So arguably they brought back Jamal’s hands to Riyadh.

Preet Bharara:

Can I ask you two questions? One, how certain are you that MBS directed the murder of Jamal Khashoggi? And two, how certain are you that that decision came before the event? In other words, it was planned and premeditated based on all of your research.

Bryan Fogel:

Well, I think, first of all I’ll answer question one other MBS ordered the murder. You have to understand how a kingdom works, right? Which is any decision like this could only come from the king or the crown prince. And in the case of MBS, King Salman is not really ruling the country anymore. It’s Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince. So this operation, right, was carried out with private jets owned by Saudi Arabia, with diplomatic passports, the guys on the kill team, the guy leading the operation [inaudible] is basically Mohammad bin Salman’s private security. There’s photos of him anywhere Mohammad bin Salman travels in the background basically as his private security. Al-Tubaigy the country’s forensic coroner who provides autopsies is part of this kill team. Al-Asiri, the country’s top general Is part of this killed team. I mean, so how-

Preet Bharara:

So I take it the answer to my question is yes.

Bryan Fogel:

I mean, it’s just unfathomable that an operation at this level could be carried out without the permission of the leader. I mean, it’s unfathomable, especially in a monarchy like this, and especially in the way that this country is governed not by people, it’s governed by a single person who makes all the decisions. So to that extent… Look, this isn’t my assessment, this is the CIA’s assessment. This is British intelligence assessment. This is-

Preet Bharara:

but not Donald Trump’s assessment.

Bryan Fogel:

This is Agnes — Well…

Preet Bharara:

It’s not Donald Trump’s assessment.

Bryan Fogel:

Well, yeah.

Preet Bharara:

Can you explain that?

Bryan Fogel:

Well, sure. Can you explain how our election is invalid? And can you explain how the election was tampered with? Explain that-

Preet Bharara:

You documentary filmmakers have the same technique, answer a question with a question very well done. Well done sir. What is also so disturbing is in the transcript you see some of the people on, as you describe it, the kill team, they’re laughing from time to time during this process. What was your reaction when you first saw some of these words [inaudible] out? I mean, it made me want to punch a wall. I mean, I want to put my fist through a wall.

Bryan Fogel:

It’s unbelievable that human beings, people, not only can you murder someone and dismember them in cold blood that you create in your mind, this idea that somebody is so much your enemy, but not only do they deserve to die, that you relish and take delight in the murder and their dismemberment. And clearly, I mean, just the complete cold blooded nature of this, and what is in that transcript of these guys essentially laughing and playing music and joking around about cutting him up a horse.

Preet Bharara:

It’s maybe one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen a lot of discussing things. I was, I was in a position to see disgusting things.

Bryan Fogel:

And talking about how you basically cut up an animal into quarters. And it’s horrific and it’s absolutely shocking.

Preet Bharara:

You know what else is shocking? The botched cover-up, the amateur hour coverup after the fact. So Jamal never leaves the consulate. His fiance is witness to the fact that he never leaves the consulate. What did you make based on your research and making this film of how they thought they could get away with the murder when even putting aside unbeknownst to them, there was a bug in the room.

Bryan Fogel:

Well, to bring you back to your previous question you had said, “Was there a plan?” Because it’s been written about a lot in Saudi Arabia, basically go, “Oh, well, we didn’t plan to kill him. He resisted, he fought. And because he thought we had to kill him.” That is not true at all. I mean, the plan was signed, sealed and delivered when Jamal entered that consulate, that he was going to be murdered and dismembered. I mean, they had literally in the days prior sent rendition teams to figure out where they were going to put the body had scoped out different places where they could dispose off the body. They literally ordered 70 pounds of meat from a very well-known restaurant in Istanbul. I will not say which one, basically, to be delivered to the Consulate General’s home because it is as the Saudi prosecutor and police and all the examiners believe they burned Jamal’s body in the tandoor oven, along with the 70 pounds of meat to basically disguise the smell, and also mix up any sort of evidence.

Bryan Fogel:

And they had this tandoor oven worked on in the days prior to Jamal’s murder to make sure that it burned it over a thousand degrees, which would incinerate bone and any human body. So the idea that this was a murder that was not planned is absurd. I mean, they literally… the guy came, al-Tubaigy carried with him a bone saw, and what he does is as a coroner and knows how to cut up the body. Why would you bring 15 people on a kill team if you were not planning to basically murder this person? Now as to the second part of the question, which is how did they not think they were going to get caught? Well, I mean, first of all, they could’ve never fathomed that there was a listening device in the consulate, right? And that all of that was going to be on audio. So that obviously was not part of the equation. The second part of the equation is as they were so stupid as they literally had a guy put on Jamal’s clothes-

Preet Bharara:

Yeah, I remember that.

Bryan Fogel:

Put on a fake beard, exit out the back of the consulate, right? And then go walk to basically where the blue mosque is, walk into a public bathroom, change clothes, put on his own clothes. And then the guy is captured on surveillance cameras, sitting at a café eating lunch. They were just so brazen and stupid. And what is incredible also though, is the Turkish investigation is what you realize is not only is every corner and street of Istanbul, are their security cameras, right? That they were able to piece together. All of these security camera footage from the airports, from the departures, as they arrived in through the private terminal, as they came in and out of airport security, as they entered the consulate, as they exited, as they walked into the Consulate General’s home. That there was enough security surveillance cameras out there of Jamal and Hatice exiting their apartment building, of them hailing a taxi, on and on and on that the Turks were able to truly reassemble and assemble this crime leaving no stone unturned.

Preet Bharara:

Hear more of our conversation in just a moment. Do you have any sense of whether or not the Turkish folks, their job was complicated by the fact of a relationship with Saudi Arabia and how this would play out internationally/ Or did they do as professional job as they could have?

Bryan Fogel:

This was something that was very important to me in making the film, which was clearly there are politics between Turkey and Saudi Arabia. In fact, Turkey came to the rescue of [inaudible] as the Saudis basically were seeking to invade and annex [inaudible] years ago, which created that rift. But in this case, in this matter, right, and you just take any politics aside, the facts are the facts, are the facts are the facts. The evidence is the evidence. And Turkey-

Preet Bharara:

But they give it to you and they didn’t have to put it out there.

Bryan Fogel:

No.

Preet Bharara:

Because they don’t really have anyone to prosecute because they’re all gone, right?

Bryan Fogel:

There was a reason that I was told. What was very interesting to me in all of these meetings and I mean, countless meetings with the Turks, because building their trust was months and ultimately a year long process before obtaining the transcript. What was interesting to me as I was always going, “Well, gee,” I’m sure if they would have went to Saudi Arabia and said, “Hey, we’ve got this audio and we’re about to expose you,” that Saudi Arabia would have paid God knows the amount of money to keep this private.

Preet Bharara:

There are all sorts of you can get from one of the richest countries in the world.

Bryan Fogel:

Exactly.

Preet Bharara:

And they didn’t do that.

Bryan Fogel:

And what I was told, and I will not tell you by who, but it was from as credible and as a high-

Preet Bharara:

Give us the initial. Can you give us the initials?

Bryan Fogel:

Just assume it’s bulletproof. And what I was told is that president Erdogan, there was absolutely no price that could be paid that was going to cover up this crime. That this was so [inaudible] to the country of Turkey, that you would literally kill somebody in a consulate, in Turkey, that country where they’ve granted you… that consulate.

Preet Bharara:

Well it’s in a front, it’s not-

Bryan Fogel:

A fraud.

Preet Bharara:

There are multiple reasons why you could be upset about this. One, is the human and decency of it. The other is you come into my house, you’re in my kitchen. You kill someone in my house?

Bryan Fogel:

Right. And here was the real nail in the coffin. You were going to frame the murder on Turkey. The whole plan was to blame Turkey for the murder and go, “Hey, Turkey has journalists imprisoned and we don’t know what happened to Jamal, but hey, he was in Turkey and he vanished, it’s Turkey’s fault.” And when Turkey understood that the plan was basically to frame Turkey for the murder, there was no price that was going to be paid for Saudi Arabia to get out of this.

Preet Bharara:

Yeah it seems like a lot of miscalculations and a lot of separate and apart from the outrageousness of it, and the brutality of it, and the inhumanity of it, there were a lot of clown like moves and sort of hard to understand. Hey, can I ask you this? So you come off an Oscar win from your film Icarus, and you decide this is your next project. And it has deep interest, not just in America, but around the world. It was a huge news story, has a lot of political implications. I would imagine there were many, many, many outlets who were banging down your door to be the distributor for this film. Correct?

Bryan Fogel:

That was quite a way to set up that question.

Preet Bharara:

Well, that’s what one might think, but that’s not the world we live in. So, I mean, kidding aside, you’re a tremendously successful director. You have an amazing team. You just won the damn Oscar. This story is more sensational of more widespread interest. So explain to the folks why almost nobody was willing to distribute this film.

Bryan Fogel:

This was a incredible wake up call to the world that we live in. And also a wake up call to not only the Saudi influence and power and money that they wield and ultimately control. But also a wake up call to the fear and cowardice among these mega corporations, and media companies, and streamers that basically seek profit on the business interests in subscriber growth, far ahead of human rights. So here I go to take on this film and I do it really as an activist. The human rights foundation, Thor Halvorssen comes on board to fund the film. And they fund the film all through charitable donations through their foundation because it meets their mandate of basically exposing and protecting human rights abuses. And we embarked to go make this film and we get it ready in time for Sundance Film Festival last year, which is arguably the most prestigious and well-regarded film festival in North America, second to maybe only [inaudible] in the world.

Bryan Fogel:

We premiere it there. Hillary Clinton is at my premiere. Reed Hastings the CEO of Netflix is at my premier. Alec Baldwin and others. And we literally are greeted by a [inaudible] standing ovation. Hatice and Agnes [inaudible] the UN special repertoire are with me. Hatice, as she takes the stage after the premiere at Sundance, I’m watching as hundreds of people in the audience are wiping tears from their eyes. And the following day we met with the most [inaudible 01:00:56], incredible reviews that I’ve ever read. I was just so overwhelmed by it. I mean, the review, and the variety, and the Hollywood reporter were just a love letter to the film, but really a love letter to Jamal and such a validation for this really emotional gut wrenching journey me and my team had been on.

Bryan Fogel:

But it reminded me why I had made the film. I made the film for Hatice. I made the film for Jamal. I made the film for Loujain al-Hathloul, who is the Saudi women’s human rights activists who was sentenced last week to six years in jail, on top of the three that she’s already seen. And her crime as a 31 year old woman is basically saying publicly that women in that country should be able to leave their home without the permission of an 18 year old male, that women in that country should be able to drive, that women in that country should be able to wear what they want. And for that, she sits in a jail for nine years now. Three years, and another six years of sentencing. So I made the film for these people and then to have these accolades, and then believe that one of these big global media companies, these big streamers distributors, we’re going to acquire the film.

Bryan Fogel:

And because it was the human rights foundation, we didn’t care how much they paid. We would have given it away for free and not a single one of these companies, not one, stepped up to acquire and distribute.

Preet Bharara:

And the reason?

Bryan Fogel:

Well, I think it’s the same reason why we’re still selling weapons to the Saudis, why the Russo brothers, the directors of the Avenger films just took $50 million from Saudi Arabia. Why Live Nation and AMC theaters have hundreds of millions of dollars of Saudi money into them. Why Penske Media has taken hundreds of millions from the Saudi, why Uber and the vast majority of American tech companies have Saudi money in them.

Preet Bharara:

Nobody wants to make Mohammed bin Salman upset.

Bryan Fogel:

That, and I think greed and cowardice and putting business interests and subscriber growth ahead of humanity, ahead of human rights, ahead of good and allowing evil to prevail as long as there’s money behind it. And you can see the same thing out of China.

Preet Bharara:

It a version of the flies on a broader… As you were saying that I was thinking on a broader, more international scale in which not just individual dissidents are being silenced by overwhelming their voices through all these [inaudible] like you described, but powerful, independent, iconic American companies, right? Who operate under the flag of freedom and the First Amendment, right? The only business mentioned in the constitution is the press. And yet in your view, they are cowed by Saudi Arabia and the promise of money. And in particular, I thought it was interesting. The richest man in the world is Jeff Bezos. I believe as of today.

Bryan Fogel:

200 billion.

Preet Bharara:

He owns the Washington Post and he’s in the film. And he’s presented as someone who is a supporter of and sympathetic to the plight of Jamal. He also is the biggest investor and the head of Amazon, which has a streaming service. Were you surprised that even Amazon didn’t buy it?

Bryan Fogel:

Jamal worked for the Washington Post. He was Jeff Bezos’s employee. Jeff Bezos came to Istanbul and he stood on a stage with Hatice Cengiz, Jamal Khashoggi’s fiancee, at the one year anniversary of Jamal’s murder. And he said to Hatice in her eyes, “And you need to know that you are in our hearts. We are here and you are not alone.” And then he embraced and hugged Hatice, which was against her Islamic upbringing and that caused her great problems in the press, but she hugged and embraced him. And in that moment, we believed that we had a friend in Jeff Bezos. I mean, he flew to Istanbul for Jamal’s memorial and stood on a stage and hugged Jamal’s fiancee and told her that she was not alone, but clearly she was alone.

Preet Bharara:

And how do you feel about the Amazon decision in particular, given that connection?

Bryan Fogel:

Is the same answer that I have to everything else, money, business, greed, power. And when is it ever enough? When is it ever enough? I mean, in the last months, Amazon announced that they were acquiring Souq, which is the Amazon of Saudi Arabia, and there’s all sorts of deals back on the table. And so you have to ask yourself at a certain point, when is it enough? When do you have enough that you actually say, “You know what, it’s not acceptable to murder my employee in a consulate, dismember him, burn his body among 70 pounds of meat. I’m not going to do business with you. There is no amount of money that you can pay me.” And it’s disheartening that the people in power, that have the ability for the world to see content like this, that have the ability to stand up to injustices like this because of their wealth and power choose not to.

Preet Bharara:

Well, there’s a complicating dimension to the Jeff Bezos part. And by the way, we will now be accompanied by my son who has delayed his piano lesson and his mother’s not allowing it to be delayed any further. There’s a complicating factor with Jeff Bezos, right, who had a direct relationship with MBS. And there was the business of his marriage and direct texting and the infiltration of his device, presumably by Saudi Arabia. So I don’t know if that had any effect on any of this, or if you have any comment on that.

Bryan Fogel:

Well Jeff Bezos was hacked by Mohammed bin Salman. I’ve seen reports, I’ve seen documents, I’ve seen the data streams. And he was hacked by Mohammad bin Salman before the Khashoggi murder. When Mohammed bin Salman came to the United States in 2018, if you remember he had these meetings with everybody from Obama, to Bezos, to Bill Gates, to Elon Musk. And he paraded around the United States meeting, all the rich and powerful. He got Jeff Bezos his phone number, and they started messaging each other, and they were messaging over a multi-billion dollar cloud server deal that they were going to announce. Well, one of the messages that Mohammad bin Salman sent to Jeff Bezos was a video message of like a soccer match. And this video message as forensically examined through really, really reputable, big cyber security guys, showed that when Bezos basically clicked on this video message, all of a sudden hundreds of megabytes, gigabytes of data started streaming out of his phone and was connecting to a server known to be Saudi.

Bryan Fogel:

And this happened over months and months. So what MBS appeared to be doing was just gaining information on Bezos, getting intelligence on Amazon, intelligence on their deal, basically how to leverage whatever it was. And then in the fallout of the Khashoggi murder, as Jamal wrote for the Washington Post, and what Mohammad bin Salman couldn’t fathom, and I think Trump can’t fathom this either, is the idea of a free press, right? Is that just because you own the newspaper, right, you can be, what is it, the Sullenberger family or whatever that owns the New York times, right?

Preet Bharara:

Yeah, Sulzbergers, right.

Bryan Fogel:

Sulzbergers. Or just because you’re Jeff Bezos and you own the Washington Post, That doesn’t mean you control what the New York times writes about, nor do you control what the Washington Post writes about. And so the fact that the Washington Post was basically bringing this Khashoggi murder front and center to the world and wouldn’t let it go and kept pursuing it, right, and that Khashoggi’s death, he’s not a Saudi journalist, he’s a Washington Post journalist. In Mohammed bin Salman’s mind, Jeff Bezos could have stopped that. He could have said to the Washington Post, “Hey, go easy on MBS. Stop writing about Khashoggi.” And that didn’t happen. And so they try to blackmail Bezos and expose his affair to Lauren Sanchez.

Preet Bharara:

Do you think there will be any accountability for any of these people after Biden takes office?

Bryan Fogel:

I think that Biden has said, and we’re going to find out, that one of his mandates is that as he takes office, he wants to re-examine the US Saudi relations. He’s tweeted out such as justice for Jamal on the second anniversary of Jamal’s murder. He sent out his condolences again saying justice for Jamal, again saying that if elected president, he plans to do something. And one thing that I do know, or at least believe is there is bipartisan support. In the film, I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t making a Trump hit piece. And so I allowed Trump to just purely speak for himself without any spin on it, without any political conjecture of right and wrong. And those that admonished Trump in the film, are Bob Corker, Rand Paul, Lindsey Graham, it’s his constituents.

Bryan Fogel:

And the reason why I wanted to see to it that it was his constituents saying that this was wrong rather than Nancy Pelosi, or Adam Schiff, or the usual Democrats is because I wanted to show that there was true bipartisan support. And both in the house of representatives and the Senate, there was almost unanimous support to basically block weapon sales, to Saudi Arabia and impose sanctions for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and Trump vetoed both of those actions. So I believe that Biden, regardless of who wins the upcoming Senate race here is going to have support in both the house and the Senate for re-examining the US Saudi relationship.

Preet Bharara:

Let’s just point out to folks that we’re recording this on Tuesday, January 5th, and we don’t know the results of the Georgia runoffs yet. Have you ever had, or do you have now any fear for your own safety because of your involvement in this project?

Bryan Fogel:

I don’t.

Preet Bharara:

Is that because you’re a privileged American and you think that nothing can happen to you?

Bryan Fogel:

No, it’s because if I live in fear, then you stop, I think living a life to its fullest potential, and one where you do things based on right or wrong, or from a point of activism or human rights, because then you’re factoring in decisions, or you’re factoring in risk. And I think that’s the same reason why we didn’t land a big global distributor is because all of their decision-making is factoring in risk. When I’m making a film like this, I’m not putting that into the equation. What I am putting into the equation is what has it been like to be a Hatice Cengiz, Jamal’s fiancee? And if I don’t do this, who’s going to do this. What is it like to be Omar Abdulaziz and be living in self exile while his two younger brothers, 19 and 21 years old, sit in a jail in Saudi Arabia for two years without charges.

Bryan Fogel:

What’s it like to be Loujain al-Hathloul or [inaudible] Jamal’s friend the economists who had the audacity to tweet that he didn’t agree with MBS’ economic policies for the country. What’s it like to be these people? And what can I do as a human on this planet in my short time that I have in this world to maybe affect change or have an impact? And that’s kind of how I approach things. And if I start thinking about, “Oh, what might happen to me,” then that I stopped telling stories like this. And I’d rather tell stories like this, then worry about consequences or not even that, worry about things that haven’t happened, nor do I believe they will happen, because I still believe in our democracy. I still believe that we do have safety in America and that we are safe here. And I hope that I’m right.

Preet Bharara:

Bryan Fogel, thanks for taking the time. I really appreciate it. People should watch The Dissident. It’ll be available on video on demand platforms everywhere starting Friday, January 8th. My conversation with Bryan Fogel continues for members of the CAFE insider community. To try out the membership free for two weeks, head to cafe.com/insider. Again, that’s cafe.com/insider.

***

So let me end the show this week with a confession, I’m very tired. Maybe some of you are very tired also. And I was going to talk about some incident from a few weeks ago, but then the events of yesterday and by yesterday, I mean, Tuesday, January 5th, I’m recording this on the morning of January 6th, Wednesday, and I was up very late watching election returns in Georgia. And I will tell you that I was pretty surprised. And part, because I don’t like to get my hopes up. And in part, because I consult with lots of very smart people in politics, both on the Democratic side and the Republican side and not withstanding what some people were saying optimistically in public and on TV, which is what you do in politics. The predictions were all, maybe one seat, definitely not two seats. The Republicans will retain the Senate.

That was the prediction of everyone I spoke to. Those were private conversations with people who are in the business. And that only seemed common sense. Both of the Republican senators back on November 3rd, outperformed their Democratic counterparts. There was an argument that the people of Georgia might want to split their vote. They might want split government, Democratic president, and some ability to counteract the Democratic president’s conduct by having a Republican Senate. And maybe all of those arguments and predictions might’ve been correct but for recent shenanigans that we’ve been talking about. And Milgram and I have been talking about in Georgia, which may have suppressed the vote on the part of Republicans who were told over and over and over again, it’s a rigged election. Why go out and vote? It’s too early to know. And I should also note that while Reverend Warnock has been declared the winner, Jon Ossoff seems like he has won, but as of the time I’m recording this in my tiredness, he has not been declared the winner, but it’s expected.

So I’m going to assume for the sake of this program and enjoying my day that both Ossoff and Warnock have won, and that my former boss, Senator Chuck Schumer will be the next majority leader of the United States Senate. And while the final votes are still being counted, I think it’s not too early to note how historic these races are, and symbolic, and important. The Reverend, who is a pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist church, which is where the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was once a co-pastor, will be the first, the first black Senator ever elected from Georgia. Jon Ossoff, who was a guest on Stay Tuned a few weeks ago is a 33 year old Jewish man. He will be the youngest Senator in decades. Since president elect Joe Biden was elected back in 1973, and both candidates ran tough and inspiring campaigns, even as their Republican opponents smeared them with racist and antisemitic ads that positioned the two candidates as dangerous radicals.

Like the time that Jon Ossoff’s opponent, David Perdue who by the way, refused to debate more than once with Jon Ossoff, who ran an ad against him in which Ossoff knows was enlarged an age old anti-Semitic stereotype. The credit goes to a lot of people. Organizers in the state have long been fighting to flip the state of Georgia and black voters, especially actually showed up in full force. Thanks to organizers like Stacey Abrams who today, according to a lot of people walks on water. And the folks at Fair Fight who have been working to register voters in the state for a long time now. According to the Washington Post, quote, “In Fulton County, the state’s most populous County, and where a substantial share of voters are black, more in-person voters showed up on Tuesday yesterday, then on election day in November.” And this is for a runoff election.

That doesn’t happen. If you stayed up late enough you got to see remarks made by Reverend Warnock who had some troubles with his live stream, As I noted. And he said referring to his mother, “The 82 year old hands that used to pick somebody else’s cotton, went to the polls and picked her youngest son to be a United States Senator. The improbable journey that led me to this place and this historic moment in America could only happen here.” Here’s something else that connects the somewhat uphill and historic victories for Ossoff and Warnock. They’re linked by the late Congressman John Lewis, who we lost recently. A man who dedicated his life to representing the people of Georgia and fighting for every person’s right to vote. He was all about the right to vote. And Lewis it turns out, was a guiding force to both of these candidates. Jon Ossoff, as an even younger person, was an intern for John Lewis when he was just starting out and remain connected to him until his death. And Warnock was Lewis’ pastor at the church they both attended.

The Reverend spoke at Lewis’ funeral this past July. When I had Jon Ossoff on Stay Tuned a few weeks ago, I was inspired by his will to fight for the people of Georgia. And that is exactly what both of them will do. And by dent of their victories, the Senate will be able to do its work as well and help Joe Biden fix a lot of things that are problematic in this country. It will be easier to get confirmations, it’ll be easier to get changes in climate policy, it will be easier to deal with COVID relief. So many things that could have been obstructed by the current majority leader, Mitch McConnell should be able to happen. So congratulations to Reverend Warnock and Jon Ossoff, thank you to John Lewis and Stacy Abrams. And thank you to all the voters in Georgia who showed up against all odds. These will be close races, just like the presidential race last November was close. And it just shows us that all saying remains true, every vote really does matter. Well, that’s it for this episode of Stay Tuned. Thanks again to my guest Bryan Fogel.

If you like what we do rate and review the show on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen. Every positive review helps new listeners find the show. Send me your questions about news, politics, and justice. Tweet them to me @PreetBharara with the hashtag #askPreet. Or you can call and leave me a message at (669) 247-7338 that’s 669247 Preet. Or you can send an email to [email protected] Stay Tuned is presented by CAFE studios. Your host is Preet Bharara. The executive producer is Tamara Sepper. The senior producer is Adam Waller. The technical director is David Tatasciore, and the CAFE team is Matthew Billy, David Kurlander, Sam Ozer-Staton, Noah Azulai, Nat Wiener, Jake Kaplan, Jeff Eisenman, Chris Boylan, Sean Walsh, and Margo Maley. Our music is by Andrew dost. I’m Preet Bharara, stay tuned.