Senior US senators said on Tuesday that they are more certain than ever that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, was responsible for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“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,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, referring to the crown prince by his initials, told reporters after receiving a CIA briefing on the matter.
There may not be a “smoking gun,” but there is a “smoking saw,” Graham said, in reference to a bone saw that investigators said was used to cut up Khashoggi’s body, Reuters reports.
Graham and some fellow lawmakers had a closed-door meeting on Tuesday with Central Intelligence Agency Director Gina Haspel, during which they received a briefing on the Khashoggi saga.
Khashoggi, a US resident who was a columnist for the Washington Post, was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October.
Making some of their strongest accusations so far, both Republicans and Democrats said they still want to pass legislation to send a message to Saudi Arabia that the US condemns the death of Khashoggi. But they remain sharply divided over how to do so, Reuters noted.
Many Democrats want a “straight up or down vote” on a war powers resolution to end all US support for the Saudi coalition in Yemen, without amendments.
But President Donald Trump and some of his fellow Republicans have argued that Washington should not take action that would risk its relationship with Riyadh, which is viewed as an important counterweight to Iran in the Middle East.
“Somebody should be punished,” Republican Senator Richard Shelby said. “Now the question is how do you separate the Saudi crown prince and his group from the nation itself?”
Last week, 14 of Trump’s fellow Republicans, who hold a slim majority in the Senate and rarely break from the president, defied his wishes and voted with Democrats to advance the measure that would end US support for the Saudi-led war effort in Yemen.
Graham said he would not vote for the Yemen resolution. He said he would prefer to pass a separate bill to cut off arms sales to Saudi Arabia, military aid for the war in Yemen and impose sanctions on those responsible for individuals responsible for human rights abuses.
Graham introduced a bill setting out those goals last month.
Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, another lead sponsor of the legislation, told reporters after the Haspel briefing that he might try to get it passed as an amendment to a must-pass spending bill if the Senate does not pass the war powers resolution.
Both Republicans and Democrats urged Trump himself to strongly condemn the killing after he stood by the crown prince.
“If the crown prince went in front of a jury, he’d be convicted in 30 minutes,” said Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Asked if he would be convicted of murder, Corker replied “Yes.”
“Before this briefing, I was convinced that we had to take steps on the war in Yemen and I believe that we had to take steps on the Saudis,” Menendez said.
“I am only solidified in that view after this briefing. It is my hope that the Senate will act and send a strong, unequivocal message that such actions cannot stand.”
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