WASHINGTON — Lawmakers briefed Tuesday by CIA Director Gina Haspel accused Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of being responsible for the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Sen. Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN after a briefing with Haspel that the prince, known as MBS, “ordered, monitored, the killing” of the father of four.
Corker added, “And if he (MBS) were in front of a jury, he would be convicted of murder in about 30 minutes.”
Corker was one of several lawmakers who emerged from a small briefing with the CIA director appearing convinced of the prince’s responsibility for the killing. The murder has become a lightning rod, dividing the White House and a usually supportive Republican-led Senate.
After Haspel’s briefing, the groundswell of certainty and disgust will likely complicate the administration’s efforts to protect the prince and its relationship with Saudi Arabia, even as lawmakers remain divided about how to respond.
“I left the briefing with high confidence that my initial confidence is correct,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, who said he is highly confident that the prince is responsible for the murder.
The Virginia resident disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2. After several weeks of changing explanations, the Saudi government finally admitted that his killing was premeditated and carried out by a team of government officials, many within the prince’s inner circle.
Several of those men have been sentenced to death. Saudi officials continue to deny the prince’s involvement, blaming rogue operators.
‘A smoking saw’
The Trump administration has argued there is no “smoking gun” tying the prince to the murder, but Corker said Haspel presented the senators with information they hadn’t heard before.
“There’s not a smoking gun,” said Graham, who then referred to reports that the Saudi team included a forensic expert who arrived with equipment to dismember Khashoggi’s body. “There’s a smoking saw,” Graham said.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary James Mattis traveled to Capitol Hill last week without Haspel for a closed-door briefing on Yemen for Senate lawmakers at which they emphasized the strategic importance of the US-Saudi relationship and defended the administration’s response to Khashoggi’s murder.
Pompeo said after the briefing that there was “no direct reporting” that connected the prince to the killing. The CIA has concluded that the crown prince personally ordered Khashoggi’s killing, according to a senior US official and a source familiar with the matter.
Haspel left the briefing and did not respond to CNN’s questions about whether the briefing would satisfy senators’ concerns.