There’s a growing list of top Senate Republicans who’ve come forward and said they believe Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
Khashoggi, a Saudi national who was often critical of the royal family in his writing, was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2.
The CIA has reportedly concluded the Saudi crown prince, the de facto ruler of the kingdom, ordered the killing.
But President Donald Trump has forcefully defended the Saudi royal family over Khashoggi’s killing and signaled he does not wish to punish the crown prince over the incident. As a result, the president has been accused of siding with the Saudis over the US intelligence community.
Last week, senators expressed outrage over the fact CIA Director Gina Haspel was absent from a briefing on Khashoggi’s killing. Haspel was reportedly barred from attending by the Trump administration.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary James Mattis attended the briefing. Both have largely embraced the president’s stance on the killing and have avoided pointing any fingers at Crown Prince Mohammed. Pompeo said there was no “direct reporting” that Crown Prince Mohammed ordered the hit on Khashoggi, echoing Trump’s statement that “maybe he did and maybe he didn’t.”
Haspel ultimately briefed the Senate leadership on Khashoggi’s killing on Tuesday, but a number of senators were angry about the exclusive nature of the briefing.
After Tuesday’s briefing, key Republican senators said they were confident the crown prince ordered the killing and signaled they intend to push for major changes to the US-Saudi partnership. In short, Trump’s position on Khashoggi has increasingly put him at odds with the GOP foreign-policy establishment.
Republican Sen. Bob Corker emerged from Tuesday’s briefing with Haspel and said there’s “zero question” the crown prince ordered Khashoggi’s killing.
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“The royal family inside the country looks to what the president says and so do people in the region,” Corker told reporters on Tuesday. “And therefore I think it would appear to them and to people in the region that just based on what has been said, that someone like MBS can murder people and have immunity.”
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Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who attended Tuesday’s briefing, said he could no longer support US arms sales to the kingdom with Crown Prince Mohammed as the de facto ruler.
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“Saudi Arabia is a strategic ally and the relationship is worth saving, but not at all costs,” Graham said. “We’ll do more damage to our standing in the world and our national security by ignoring [Crown Prince Mohammed] than dealing with him. [Prince Mohammed], the crown prince, is a wrecking ball. I think he’s complicit in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi in the highest level possible.”
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“There’s not a smoking gun — there’s a smoking saw,” Graham said in an apparent reference to allegations a bone saw was used to dismember Khashoggi’s body after he was killed. Last week, Mattis said there was no “smoking gun” tying the crown prince to the killing.
Source: The Washington Post
Speaking on Mattis and Pompeo, Graham also said, “If they were in a Democratic administration, I would be all over them for being in the pocket of Saudi Arabia.”
Source: The Washington Post
Republican Sen. Rand Paul did not blame the Trump administration for preventing him and others from attending the briefing with Haspel, and instead criticized the CIA. But Paul also signaled he supports making major changes to the US-Saudi partnership.
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“They bomb civilians in Yemen. They have political dissidents in jail. They are completely reckless in the Middle East. Now is the time to stand up and say: ENOUGH! Saudi Arabia’s behavior is unacceptable, and the United States won’t stand for it,” Paul tweeted on Tuesday.
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio on Wednesday said there’s “no doubt” the crown prince was involved in Khashoggi’s killing.
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“Just from what we know about Saudi Arabia, what we know about the crown prince and what we know about this murder leaves you with no doubt that the crown prince, at a minimum, knew about it and condoned it, and perhaps at worst was actually involved in directing it,” Rubio told CNN.
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Rubio was not at Tuesday’s briefing but sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee and said he was already aware of what the senators learned. “Everything they knew, whatever they learned in that meeting, we’ve known,” Rubio said.
Rubio, added, “As far as the White House and their position is concerned, it is my view that they are trying to preserve from a realistic perspective the importance of the Saudi-US alliance, which I agree with — it is a critical one. But all alliances have buffers, all alliances have limits. And the crown prince will continue to test the limits of this alliance until those limits are clearly set.”
This all comes ahead of a crucial vote on a resolution to end US support for Saudi Arabia in the Yemen conflict.
- Naif Rahma/Reuters