Senators don’t agree with President Donald Trump as they left a briefing with CIA Director Gina Haspel, and said they were convinced that Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman was involved in the death of Jamal Khashoggi.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said he believed that if the crown prince were put on trial, a jury would find him guilty in “about 30 minutes.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who demanded the briefing with Haspel, said there was “zero chance” the crown prince wasn’t involved in Khashoggi’s death.
“There’s not a smoking gun. There’s a smoking saw,” Graham said, referring to reports from the Turkish government that said Saudi agents had used a bone saw to dismember Khashoggi after he was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. “You have to be willfully blind” not to conclude that this was orchestrated and organized by people under the crown prince’s command, Graham said.
Trump has equivocated over who is to blame for the killing, frustrating senators who are now looking for ways to punish the longtime Middle East ally. The Senate overwhelmingly voted last week to move forward on a resolution curtailing U.S. backing for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
Haspel met with a small group of senators, including leadership and the chairmen and top Democrats on the key national security committees, after senators in both parties complained that she didn’t attend an all-Senate briefing with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis last week.
Pompeo and Mattis tried to dissuade senators from punishing Saudi Arabia with the resolution, saying U.S. involvement in the Yemen conflict is central to the Trump administration’s broader goal of containing Iranian influence in the Middle East. Human rights groups say the war is wreaking havoc on the country and subjecting civilians to indiscriminate bombing.
The two men also echoed Trump’s reluctance to blame the crown prince. Pompeo said there was “no direct reporting” connecting the crown prince to the murder, and Mattis said there was “no smoking gun” making the connection.
After that briefing, Graham threatened to withhold his vote on key legislation until he heard from Haspel. “I’m not going to blow past this,” Graham said. That afternoon, senators frustrated with the briefing and the lack of response to Khashoggi’s killing overwhelmingly voted to move forward with consideration of the Yemen resolution, 63-37.
Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) said the briefing with Haspel “clearly went in to an evaluation of the intelligence” and was much more informative than the session with Mattis and Pompeo.
“I went in believing the crown prince was directly responsible or at least complicit in this and my feelings were strengthened by the information we were given,” Durbin said.
Durbin joined Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer in calling for a full-Senate briefing from Haspel.
“Every senator should hear what I heard this afternoon,” Durbin said.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a critic of Saudi Arabia, said that excluding some lawmakers was “the very definition of the deep state” and that he suspected that the Trump administration was attempting to get some lawmakers to switch their votes on the resolution by giving them information.