WASHINGTON – Key Senate leaders emerged from a briefing Tuesday with CIA Director Gina Haspel convinced that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince was complicit in the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and that Congress must respond by penalizing the kingdom.
“He murdered him, no question in my mind,” Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said of Mohammed bin Salman’s role in the killing. “The crown prince directed the murder and was kept apprised of the situation all the way through.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who had demanded the Haspel briefing, echoed that conclusion, calling the crown prince a “wrecking ball” and saying the evidence against the prince, known by his initials MBS, was overwhelming.
“I think he’s complicit to the highest level possible,” Graham said. “There’s not a smoking gun. There’s a smoking saw,” he added, a reference to reports that the Saudi operatives who killed Khashoggi used a bone saw to dismember him after the murder.
Corker, Graham and others said the only question now was how Congress would respond. Graham said he would push legislation to sanction the crown prince and other high-level Saudis involved in Khashoggi’s killing and halt arms sales to the regime. He said he also wanted the Senate to pass a non-binding resolution naming Mohammed as responsible for Khashoggi’s death.
“Saudi Arabia’s a strategic ally and the relationship is worth saving, but not at all costs,” Graham said.
Haspel infuriated lawmakers last week when she failed to attend a contentious, closed-door briefing on Khashoggi’s murder. Instead of Haspel, lawmakers heard from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis.
Both Pompeo and Mattis have played down the U.S. intelligence on Mohammed’s involvement. Pompeo told reporters last week there was no direct evidence linking the crown prince to the killing.
Graham suggested they were being “willfully blind” in their statements because the Trump administration does not want to confront Saudi Arabia over the murder.
“I’m going to assume they’re being good soldiers,” he said. “I think the reason they don’t draw the conclusion that he’s complicit is because the administration doesn’t want to go down that road, not because there’s not evidence.”
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