WASHINGTON — After CIA director Gina Haspel briefed a handful of senators on Tuesday about U.S. intelligence related to the murder of dissident Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi, lawmakers said they were even more confident that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was directly involved in the brutal assassination.
“There’s not a smoking gun — there’s a smoking saw,” Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham told reporters after the classified meeting.
“I went into the briefing believing it was virtually impossible for an operation like this to be carried out without the Crown Prince’s knowledge,” Graham added. “I left the briefing with high confidence that my initial assessment of the situation was correct.”
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., an outspoken critic of President Trump and his response to Khashoggi’s killing, stressed, “If the Crown Prince went in front of a jury, he would be convicted in 30 minutes.” Asked by a reporter if it would be a murder conviction, Corker replied “yes.”
One senator complained about having been excluded from the briefing. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said that he couldn’t even have asked for an invitation to the briefing because he only found out about it from the media. “Intelligence is only given to a few people within our system,” Paul said Tuesday. “That’s more like an oligarchy.”
Haspel’s absence at a closed-door briefing on Saudi Arabia last week rankled key lawmakers. Soon after that briefing, led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense James Mattis, senators voted overwhelmingly to advance a resolution to cut American military assistance to Saudi Arabia.
Before her meeting with the senators, Haspel, along with former CIA directors including George Tenet and John Brennan, stopped by the Capitol Rotunda to pay her respects to former President George Bush, who is lying in state at the Capitol through Wednesday morning. Bush served as CIA director for just under a year. from 1976 – 1977.
Khashoggi’s murder in October at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul has opened a rift between the Trump administration and some of its most consistent supporters in Congress — including Sen. Graham, who threatened last week to withhold key votes until he received a briefing from Haspel.
The CIA has assessed that Crown Prince bin Salman, known as MBS, ordered Khashoggi’s killing, based mainly on an understanding of how the kingdom operates and the proximity of several members of the team involved to the prince, officials told CBS News. But the Saudis have denied he was involved in the assassination and instead blamed former deputy intelligence chief Ahmed al-Asiri, who they said last month was the highest-ranking official to authorize the attack.
In November, the Trump administration announced sanctions against 17 Saudi nationals for their alleged involvement in Khashoggi’s murder. Saoud al-Qahtani, a close aide to the crown prince was designated as a sanctions target, but neither the crown prince nor Asiri were on the list.