A ‘Smoking Saw’ Links Saudi Prince to Khashoggi’s Murder, Senator Says
(Bloomberg) -- U.S. senators said a classified briefing from the CIA convinced them that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman played a role in dissident columnist Jamal Khashoggi’s dismemberment, with one describing the evidence as “a smoking saw.”
Rejecting President Donald Trump’s efforts to play down the prince’s role, Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker of Tennessee said Tuesday that if a jury were to consider a case against Prince Mohammed, he’d be convicted of murder in 30 minutes.
“There is zero question in my mind that the crown prince directed the murder and was kept apprised of the situation all the way through,” Corker said Tuesday after the closed-door briefing with CIA Director Gina Haspel and a handful of senators. “Zero question in my mind.”
Senators in the coming week are likely to consider a resolution that would restrict U.S. support for the Saudi military campaign in Yemen, which has contributed to a humanitarian disaster.
But the debate could become a virtual trial over Prince Mohammed’s responsibility for Khashoggi’s murder at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and Trump’s effort to downplay it. Senators could add amendments to further punish the kingdom.
The House hasn’t indicated it plans to move forward with a similar debate. Members of that chamber are scheduled to receive a briefing from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo on Dec. 13, according to a House aide. It’s not clear whether Haspel will be there, the aide said.
Graham’s ‘Smoking Saw’
Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina who has often been a Trump ally, said the only conclusion was that Prince Mohammed, known as MBS, is responsible for the killing.
"There’s not a smoking gun, there’s a smoking saw,” Graham said, in an apparent reference to reports that the columnist was beheaded, dismembered and his fingers were severed.
“You have to be willfully blind not to come to the conclusion and 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,” Graham said.
Graham said he won’t support arms sales to Saudi Arabia while Prince Mohammed is in power. Corker said it’s going to be difficult to determine what measure the Senate can pass with overwhelming support.
Senators who weren’t invited to Tuesday’s briefing, including Rand Paul of Kentucky, Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Tim Kaine of Virginia, where Khashoggi lived, said more senators should also get the same briefing.
The administration last week sent Mattis and Pompeo to the Capitol, but senators emerged angrier than before, in part because Haspel didn’t participate. Graham said Tuesday the difference between the Haspel briefing and the one last week was “like darkness and sunshine” in terms of shedding light on MBS’s involvement in Khashoggi’s killing.
The United Nations has said as many as 14 million people could be at risk in coming months as famine spreads. But the White House has threatened a veto of the legislation, and leaders in the Republican-controlled House haven’t shown any interest in taking it up.
Lawmakers are likely to use the debate to call for Saudi Arabia to be held accountable for its behavior and reject the Trump administration’s policy of keeping close ties with the kingdom, counting on its leaders to keep oil prices down as he ramps up sanctions on the kingdom’s rival, Iran.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry told the National Petroleum Council on Tuesday that he plans to visit Saudi Arabia and Qatar, though he didn’t give a timetable for the trip.
Senators have demanded the White House be more forthcoming about intelligence gathered on the Khashoggi killing and have signaled they may back broader sanctions against the kingdom.
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