After CIA briefing, Republicans say 'no question' Saudi crown prince ordered killing

Following a briefing by CIA director Gina Haspel Tuesday on the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, leading Republican senators told reporters that there was "zero question" that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the brutal murder.

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Sen. Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican, said "I have zero question in my mind that the Crown Prince MBS ordered the killing, monitored the killing, knew exactly what was happening. Planned it in advance. If he was in front of a jury he would be convicted in 30 minutes. Guilty," Corker said.

Corker called the Trump administration's claim that there is no direct evidence of the crown prince's involvement "unacceptable."

South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said, "There's not a smoking gun, there's a smoking saw."

"You have to be willfully blind not to come to the conclusion that this was orchestrated and organized by people under the command of MBS and that he was intricately involved in the demise of Mr. Khashoggi," he said.

He went on: "If the Saudi government is going to be in the hands of this man, I find it very difficult to be able to do business because I think he's crazy, I think he's dangerous, and he has put the relationship at risk."

Graham concluded that he can no longer support arms sales to the kingdom.

Given those comments, it appeared Haspel's briefing would not help the administration win back support for its military aid to the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen.

The fact that the briefing was limited to a small group angered several senators, including Republican allies of President Trump.

A furious Sen. Rand Paul lashed out as the closed-door briefing was taking place. The Kentucky Republican told reporters of the briefing, "We're reading about it in the media."

"I think it's wrong for the CIA to have expressed a conclusion that the Crown Prince was involved with the killing of Khashoggi and then withhold that information," he said.

He went on: "I think the time has come for the Senate to grab back foreign policy and say that, 'you know what, the president, no president, this president, or the previous president has the power to take our country to war with Saudi Arabia and Yemen without the permission of the Senate.'"

He blasted the move as a sign of the "deep state," tweeting, "Why shouldn't every senator know what is going on? The deep state wants to keep everyone in the dark. This is just ridiculous!"

It was not clear why the group was limited to eight senators.

"I think it would have been good to have the full Senate," Corker said Monday. Corker voted to advance the Yemen resolution to send a message to the White House and the Saudis, he said last week, but urged the administration to provide answers so that the measure wouldn't ultimately pass.

When asked why it was limited, Corker said, "I don't know."

The Senate's top Democrat, Chuck Schumer of New York, called on Haspel to testify before the full Senate after sitting in on the Tuesday briefing.

"While I will not discuss the content of the Haspel briefing, it reinforced the need for a strong response to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. CIA Director Haspel should brief the full Senate without delay," Schumer said in a statement.

The CIA declined to comment Tuesday.

Last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary James Mattis briefed all 100 senators, urging them to vote down a War Powers Resolution that would pull U.S. support to the coalition, which is powered by the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates and fighting an alliance led by Iranian-aligned Houthi rebels in Yemen. Pompeo and Mattis said U.S. support for that war was vital for national security and they denied that there was any "direct" evidence that the Crown Prince was involved in Khashoggi's killing.

Senators were furious that Haspel did not show, blaming the White House for blocking her. Hours after that briefing, unhappy with the administration's lack of answers and unwavering support for the Saudis despite the murder of Khashoggi, a majority of senators voted to advance that Yemen resolution.

The Senate is likely to take up the Yemen resolution next week, but a vote could come as early as Thursday.

While just eight months ago it was voted down, the legislation now has the support of all Democrats and a handful of Republicans, likely giving it enough support to pass. The House blocked a similar bill in mid-November, but when Democrats take control in January, it is expected to be a top priority.

Despite the Saudis' murder of Khashoggi and other aggressive behavior -- their bombing campaign in Yemen, the detention of Lebanese Prime Minister Said Hariri, and their blockade of another U.S. ally Qatar -- the Trump administration has argued that the Saudis are a critical U.S. partner and a bulwark of stability in the region.
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