For weeks, senators have demanded the complete story of journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder. On Tuesday, CIA Director Gina Haspel privately briefed a select group of senators.
Now they're accusing Saudi Arabia's powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of murder.
“If [the crown prince] went in front of a jury, he would be convicted in 30 minutes,” said Sen. Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee and the chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations. Corker said that Haspel’s briefing showed him that the crown prince had “ordered, monitored” Khashoggi’s assassination.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina who’s often a Trump booster, said that the crown prince was a “wrecking ball” who was “complicit in murder.”
“There’s not a smoking gun; there’s a smoking saw,” Graham continued, in reference to the bone saw that was reportedly used to dismember Khashoggi, a prominent critic of the royal family.
Haspel briefed the group two days before the Senate is set to debate a resolution to discontinue U.S. support of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen — a move widely viewed as a rebuke to President Trump's handling of the journalist’s Oct. 2 murder at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Fueling the feud between Congress and the White House over the U.S. response to the killing, Trump has refused to outright condemn Saudi Arabia and the crown prince, despite the CIA’s belief that Salman ordered the assassination. Khashoggi was reportedly strangled and cut into pieces, and the Saudis used a body double to attempt to create the illusion that Khashoggi left the consulate. Initially, Saudi officials denied any knowledge of Khashoggi’s killing, but their story later changed to say he was likely murdered.
For his part, Trump essentially parroted the talking points of the royal family and refused to follow CIA intelligence and acknowledge that the crown prince ordered the killing, saying in a rambling statement that “maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!”
Though Tuesday's briefing will likely exacerbate the divide between Congress and the White House, it remains unclear if enough Republican senators will go against the president's requests when it comes to the Yemen bill. Graham said he would not support the current Senate resolution but would introduce his own legislation to cut off U.S. aid in the Saudi effort in Yemen and impose new sanctions on Saudi Arabia.
The Republican-controlled Senate stunningly, and by a wide margin, voted last week to advance a bipartisan resolution that would remove U.S. support from Saudi Arabia’s coalition in Yemen. Although the advancement of the resolution may have been a symbolic motion for some Republicans, the heated reaction to Haspel’s briefing indicates that some Republicans might be willing to join their Democratic colleagues in passing the legislation later this week.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Haspel's briefing "reinforced the need for a strong response to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi" and called on her to brief the full Senate.
Cover image: Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud (Mohammed ben Salmane Al Saoud or MBS) attends a meeting with the United Nations Secretary-General at the United Nations on March 27, 2018, in New York City. Photo by Dennis Van Tine/Abaca/Sipa USA(Sipa via AP Images)