After a closed-door briefing by CIA Director Gina Haspel on Tuesday, some top US senators have said there is “zero chance” Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) wasn’t involved in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“The views that I had before have only solidified,” said Senator Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who has called for a strong reaction from the United States to Khashoggi’s death and backs legislation to end all support for the Saudi coalition waging war in Yemen.
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Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told reporters, “You have to be willfully blind not to come to the conclusion that this was orchestrated and organised by people under the command of MBS.”
He added that it appeared the Trump administration does not want to recognise evidence of the crown prince’s complicity.
Republican Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, echoed the comments, saying he had zero doubt in his mind that Prince Mohammed ordered and monitored the killing of Khashoggi.
He added that if Prince Mohammed were put on trial, a jury would find him guilty in “about 30 minutes”.
The comments come after Haspel briefed top Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Armed Services, Foreign Relations, Appropriations and Intelligence committees. Other senators were also present.
Senators from both parties were angry last week that the CIA director did not attend a briefing by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense James Mattis. The Trump administration denied allegations it blocked Haspel from appearing.
At last week’s briefing, Pompeo and Mattis said there was no hard evidence MBS was behind the killing and urged senators not to downgrade ties with Saudi Arabia over the incident. The CIA has reportedly assessed, however, that Prince Mohammed ordered the killing of Khashoggi.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly avoided any assertion that Prince Mohammed was involved in the killing and said the CIA had “feelings” the royal was culpable but not a firm conviction.
“I hate the crime, I hate the cover-up. I will tell you this: The crown prince hates it more than I do, and they have vehemently denied it,” he said late November.
In an earlier statement put out by the White House, Trump had praised Saudi Arabia as a “steadfast partner” and claimed, “We may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr Jamal Khashoggi.”
The US president warned that any punitive measures against Saudi Arabia or its ruling family could force Riyadh to sign arms deals with Russia and China instead of Washington.
Hours after last week’s briefing, the Senate voted 63-37 to take up a resolution aimed at limiting the US involvement in the war in Yemen, where a Washington-backed Saudi-UAE coalition launched an intervention in 2015 through a massive air campaign targeting Houthi rebels. The next vote on the bill could come as early as Thursday.
Khashoggi was killed on October 2 after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain documents needed for his planned marriage.
After offering contradictory statements for several days, Saudi Arabia admitted that Khashoggi was killed inside its consulate and his body was dismembered. The kingdom has repeatedly said Prince Mohammed had no knowledge of the killing, which Turkey said was ordered at the highest level of Saudi leadership.