Top senators said Tuesday that they were convinced that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the torture and killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi — with one saying “there’s a smoking saw” in the case against him.
“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 Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told reporters after receiving a briefing from CIA Director Gina Haspel.
“There’s not a smoking gun, there’s a smoking saw,” Graham added, taking a shot at Defense Secretary James Mattis, who told senators last week that there was “no smoking gun” linking bin Salman to the killing.
Khashoggi was killed — and then dismembered by a bone saw — in October at the Saudi embassy in Istanbul by a hit squad sent by bin Salman, the CIA concluded.
“We know he ordered it. We know he monitored it,” added Tennessee GOP Sen. Bob Corker, chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, adding that if it were a murder case sent to a jury, “he would be convicted in 30 minutes.”
Graham called the evidence overwhelming, and said those who deny the crown prince’s involvement — including President Trump — are ignoring the evidence.
“It is zero chance — zero — that this happened in such an organized fashion without the crown prince,” he said.
New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, echoed his colleagues.
“The views that I had before have only solidified,” said Menendez, who has called for a strong US response to Khashoggi’s death and backs legislation to end all American support for the Saudi coalition waging war in Yemen, a conflict in which tens of thousands have been killed or starved to death.
Haspel had faced mounting pressure to speak to senators and more fully explain the CIA’s findings after the White House last week excluded her from a Senate briefing.
During that hearing, Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo both parrotted the White House line that, as President Trump tweeted: “Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t.”
Graham called Pompeo a “good soldier” for sticking to the commander-in-chief’s story.
Trump has repeatedly said the evidence doesn’t conclusively prove that bin Salman was involved in the assassination and suggested that he believes the prince’s denials over the conclusions of the CIA.
After last week’s hearing, lawmakers complained that Trump — who touts arms deals to the Saudis as one of the reasons he doesn’t want to ruffle the regime’s feathers — was withholding information about the killing of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist.
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, meanwhile, blamed the lack of information on the supposed “Deep State,” rather than on the administration.
Paul was not in Tuesday’s hearing, in which the CIA chief addressed committee chairs.
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