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Senators say there’s ‘zero question’ Saudi crown prince ordered Khashoggi murder after CIA briefing

Senators left a briefing by CIA Director Gina Haspel on Tuesday convinced that the Saudi crown prince was involved in Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, in spite of the president’s claims that the evidence does not implicate Mohammad bin Salman.

‘There’s not a smoking gun, there’s a smoking saw,’ Sen. Lindsey Graham said after the invitation-only briefing that the intelligence agency provided to a handful of senators.

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker told reporters: ‘I have zero question in my mind that the crown prince directed the murder … zero question.’

‘To let it stand, in essence allows somebody like MBS to continue with immunity which is inappropriate,’ Corker said. ‘This cannot stand.’ 

Senators left a briefing by CIA Director Gina Haspel on Tuesday convinced that the Saudi crown prince was involved in Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, in spite of the president’s claims that the evidence does not implicate Mohammad bin Salman

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker told reporters: ‘I have zero question in my mind that the crown prince directed the murder … zero question.’ ‘Sen. Lindsey Graham said, ‘There’s not a smoking gun, there’s a smoking saw’

The rank and file were excluded from the briefing and Sen. Rand Paul went on the war path

The rank and file were excluded from the briefing and Sen. Rand Paul went on the war path

The senators’ assessment that bin Salman orchestrated a plot to assassinate the Saudi-born journalist who resided in Virginia puts President Donald Trump in an uncomfortable position. 

Before Tuesday, only Democratic lawmakers and media reports had claimed that the CIA had determined that Khashoggi was murdered with the Saudi kingdom’s assistance.  

Republican senators had suggested that it wasn’t plausible MBS was unaware but had not seen any evidence to support their claims. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer wouldn’t comment on the classified briefing after the fact. 

Graham told reporters that it is ‘virtually impossible that an operation like this could be carried out without the crown prince’s knowledge’ and he believed Trump administration officials who said otherwise were paying the president lip service. 

‘Secretary Pompeo and Mattis are following the lead of the president,’ he contended.

Corker urged the Trump administration to bring its stance in line immediately with the one that the Senate’s vote last week to rebuke Saudi Arabia has created.

‘I’d much rather the administration speak to this. I know the regime in Saudi Arabia values that much more than Congress,’ Corker said.

The president has spoken on the matter, but he claims the CIA found no evidence connecting the murder to the crown prince.

Haspel briefed a select group of senators this morning on Khashoggi’s death at the insistence of lawmakers like Graham who had been demanding an assessment on the Saudi kingdom’s direct involvement in the death.

The rank and file were excluded, though, and Sen. Rand Paul went on the war path. 

He accused bad actors in the Trump administration, ‘the deep state,’ of withholding information that could implicate bin Salman in Khashoggi’s murder. 

The senator who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee said he has a right to be briefed on matters that will affect his vote on the United States’ military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

‘I think the time has come for the Senate to grab back foreign policy and say that you know what, the president, no president, this president or the previous president, has the power to take our country to war with Saudi Arabia and Yemen without the permission of the president,’ Paul told reporters on Capitol Hill as the briefing with Haspel was being conducted.

Sen. Lindsey Graham had threatened to withhold his vote on any legislation that comes to the upper chamber until Haspel, who was missing from a briefing for senators last week, came to Capitol Hill

Sen. Lindsey Graham had threatened to withhold his vote on any legislation that comes to the upper chamber until Haspel, who was missing from a briefing for senators last week, came to Capitol Hill

Paul sits on the Foreign Relations Committee and said he has a right to be briefed on matters that will affect his vote on the United States' military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen

Paul sits on the Foreign Relations Committee and said he has a right to be briefed on matters that will affect his vote on the United States’ military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen

Paul suggested the White House was hand-picking which lawmakers would hear from Haspel in an effort to change their minds about rolling back U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

‘My theory is, they have selected people who wanted to hear from her, but also people who they think they may be able to get to change their vote if they have heard from the CIA on this,’ Paul told CNN on Monday evening. ‘I think we all should hear from her.’ 

He clarified on Tuesday that he was simply referring to the ‘deep state’ that has been claiming exists within the federal government. Paul said his gripe had ‘nothing to do with Trump’ and it’s the intelligence community that is selectively disseminating the information.

Paul told reporters that if he had been in the briefing, he would be asking about media reports that there is communication between the killers and the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. He was referring to claims that bin Salman’s phone records are a smoking gun.

A senior administration official told DailyMail.com that Paul wasn’t invited to the meeting because it was it was limited to committee chairs.

‘Senator Paul doesn’t need the intelligence report to decide his vote. He made clear years ago that he opposes arms sales to the middle east and U.S. support for the Saudi coalition in Yemen,’ the person said. ‘He also does not serve as a Chairman of a national security committee.’ 

Paul is the chairman of a subcommittee that deals with national security, however, just like Graham, who was included in the briefing. 

Republican Sen. Rand Paul accused the White House of hand-picking which lawmakers would hear from Haspel in an effort to change their minds about rolling back U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen

Republican Sen. Rand Paul accused the White House of hand-picking which lawmakers would hear from Haspel in an effort to change their minds about rolling back U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen

A spokesman for Paul said in response that the point the senator is making is that ‘everybody should be briefed on’ on the Khashoggi killing operation. 

‘It’s not just the chairman who are voting on Saudi Arabia,’ the source told DailyMail. ‘There’s 90 others. That’s not an argument. That’s not how this place works. The last time I checked there were 100 people who vote here, not nine or 10.’  

The argument received an endorsement from Graham, who said in a tweet: ‘On this, I stand with Rand!’   

Graham had threatened to withhold his vote on any legislation that comes to the upper chamber until Haspel, who was missing from a briefing for senators last week, came to Capitol Hill. 

He was among the Republican and Democratic senators on national security committees who were briefed by Haspel on Tuesday.

Graham charged in a Monday night op-ed that Trump was engaging in ‘willful blindness’ when it comes to the Saudi crown prince and that he and 62 other senators were right to vote they way they did last week on Yemen.

‘Given the evidence U.S. intelligence has gathered on Khashoggi’s killing, denying the crown prince’s involvement amounts to willful blindness. Failing to censure him would give authoritarians a green light to murder their critics,’ he said. ‘To borrow a Churchill phrase, inaction wouldn’t only give the disturbing impression the U.S. has a price, but also that its price is quite low.’    

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman deplanes at the airport in Buenos Aires, Argentina on Wednesday for the G20 Summit in this handout photo provided by the summit

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman deplanes at the airport in Buenos Aires, Argentina on Wednesday for the G20 Summit in this handout photo provided by the summit

President Trump has steadfastly supported the Saudi kingdom in spite of apparent ties between the death of Khashoggi, a former columnist for the Washington Post, and bin Salman. 

He attempted to steer clear of bin Salman, also known as MBS, over the weekend at a conference in Argentina but was caught on camera briefly chatting with him.  

‘They exchanged pleasantries at the leaders session as he did with nearly every leader in attendance,’ a senior White House official told DailyMail.com.  

Trump has acted as Mohammed bin Salman’s defender in the press, saying maybe he did know about Khashoggi’s killing and maybe he didn’t.

As he left the White House on Thursday for summit, the president shrugged off a meeting with MBS to discuss the journalist’s murder last month at a Saudi consulate, telling DailyMail.com, ‘It wasn’t set up.’

‘It only wasn’t set up, I mean, I would have met with him, but we didn’t set that one up,’ Trump contended. ‘I’m making about three or four meetings, we just didn’t have time.’  

Trump has been insisting for weeks that he is right not to condemn Saudi Arabian leaders for Khashoggi's murder and continued to claim Tuesday that the nation's crown prince may have been in the dark about the attack

Trump has been insisting for weeks that he is right not to condemn Saudi Arabian leaders for Khashoggi’s murder and continued to claim Tuesday that the nation’s crown prince may have been in the dark about the attack

Turkey gave the U.S. a recording of Khashoggi’s death that is not public but has not had its authenticity disputed earlier this month. The audio reportedly makes it clear that Khashoggi was murdered but doesn’t contain a smoking gun that would directly implicate bin Salman.

Trump and Erdogan discussed the murder during a dinner in Paris in mid-November the White House told DailyMail.com at the time.

Still, Trump claims he has not received convincing intelligence that the crown prince was pulling the strings.

‘Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t,’ Trump told the Washington Post as he prepared for the Group of 20 summit. ‘But he denies it. And people around him deny it.’

Trump danced around an assessment that  bin Salman almost certainly knew about the assassination by saying, ‘The CIA did not say affirmatively he did it.’

‘I’m not saying that they’re saying he didn’t do it, but they didn’t say it affirmatively,’ he stated.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who last week briefed in Haspel’s absence, says he told senators, ‘There is no direct reporting connecting the crown prince to the order to murder Jamal Khashoggi.’

James Mattis, the secretary of defense, also said, ‘We have no smoking gun that the crown prince was involved. Not the intelligence community or anyone else.’

Republican Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters after the briefing that none of the lawmakers believe that MBS is innocent, however.

‘I don’t think there’s anybody in the room that doesn’t believe he was responsible for it,’ Corker stated.  

Haspel was not at the briefing that the White House claims it didn’t bar her from attending.  

Graham, a key ally of Trump’s, said that until he gets a briefing from the CIA, he wouldn’t vote on any legislation, which would include a spending bill next week to keep the government open.

‘I am not going to be denied the ability to be briefed by the CIA, that we have oversight of, about whether or not their assessment supports my belief that this could not have happened without MBS knowing,’ Graham said.

President Donald Trump had an encounter with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman at the G20 on Friday as first daughter Ivanka Trump looked on but not a meeting, the White House said

President Donald Trump had an encounter with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman at the G20 on Friday as first daughter Ivanka Trump looked on but not a meeting, the White House said

Saudi King Salman presents President Donald Trump with the highest civilian honor, the Collar of Abdulaziz Al Saud, at the Royal Court Palace, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, during a visit in May of 2017

Saudi King Salman presents President Donald Trump with the highest civilian honor, the Collar of Abdulaziz Al Saud, at the Royal Court Palace, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, during a visit in May of 2017

The president had previously been called out for his claims about the MBS by Democrats, including the ranking member of the House Intelligence committee.

Rep. Adam Schiff said that Trump was being ‘dishonest’ when he claimed that the CIA offered no assessment on the crown prince’s involvement.

Trump has been dogged by the claims that resurfaced at the White House during a briefing for reporters in advance of his trip to Buenos Aires.

His national security adviser admitted that he had not listened to an audio tape provided to the American government by Turkey that allegedly documents the Washington Post columnist’s final moments.

‘Why do you think I should? What do you think I’ll learn from it?’ John Bolton testily told a reporter. ‘Unless you speak Arabic, what are you going to get from it?’  

Trump has been insisting for weeks that he is right not to condemn Saudi Arabian leaders for Khashoggi’s death and continued to claim last week that the nation’s crown prince may have been in the dark about the attack.

‘Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!’ Trump said in a statement that irked Republicans and Democrats.

Trump claimed, ‘We may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi’ and therefore the U.S. ‘intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region.’  

A Saudi hit squad murdered Khashoggi in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate on October 2. Saudi officials initially denied he was dead but later conceded Khashoggi had been killed. 

They called it a ‘rogue operation’ that took place under bin Salman’s nose. The kingdom has punished everyone known to have been involved.

The CIA has confidently assessed that couldn’t plausibly be the case. It’s unlikely that the de facto ruler of the kingdom was unaware of what was happening inside the consulate where Khashoggi was tortured and then murdered, intelligence sources have told various news publications.

That the information is leaking out and senators have not briefed has continued to irritate lawmakers like Rand Paul, who accused the White House of selectively doling out access to Haspel.

‘I wasn’t even given a classified briefing until I read about it in the newspaper. I’m only able to ask questions because of things I’m hearing that are revealed in the newspaper, and really in a representative democracy, intelligence should be shared with the representatives so we can make a level-headed decision about whether we should be at war,’ he argued.

Also speaking to CNN, Schiff, who has been briefed, has said that while he cannot not disclose classified information on Khashoggi killing, ‘I can say that I think the president is being dishonest with the American people.

‘It would be one thing if the president were leveling with the American people and saying, OK, this is what happened, this is what we know, this is what took place, but, nonetheless, we need to maintain a relationship with the kingdom. But that’s not what he’s doing.  

‘And I just think that it causes our standing in the world to plummet. It telegraphs to despots around the world they can murder people with impunity, and that this president will have his — their back, as long as they praise him, as long as they do business with him, potentially. And that cannot be the guiding principle behind our foreign policy,’ Schiff said on ‘State of the Union’ as he lectured the president.

Donald Trump insisted he was right not to condemn Saudi Arabian leaders for journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder  after harsh criticism of his pronouncement  that the crown prince may have been in the dark, because of the low cost of oil prices

Donald Trump insisted he was right not to condemn Saudi Arabian leaders for journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder after harsh criticism of his pronouncement  that the crown prince may have been in the dark, because of the low cost of oil prices

 Trump has held the declining price of oil, of which Saudi Arabia is the top exporter, as a reason for maintaining a positive relationship with the kingdom without explicitly saying that’s why he’s letting bin Salman off the hook.

‘They’re keeping the oil prices low. I see that yesterday, one of the papers, I was blamed for causing traffic jams because I have the oil prices so low. Well, I have the oil prices low because I’m jawboning them and others all the time to keep them low. Nobody ever did that,’ Trump proclaimed on Thanksgiving Day. 

The president claims that Russia and China would sweep in and take Saudi investments for themselves if America introduced tough new sanctions on the oil-rich nation. 

‘They’re buying their equipment from us. And remember this: They don’t have to buy it from us. They can buy it from Russia and they can buy it from China,’ he asserted.   

Trump’s original position entirely ignored the CIA’s findings that MBS had to be aware of the killing. His comments prompted an immediate backlash from prominent senators.

‘I never thought I’d see the day a White House would moonlight as a public relations firm for the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia,’ Corker tweeted.

But as Trump as has repeatedly said: ‘It is all about America first – it is America first.

‘We’re not going to give up hundreds of billions of dollars of orders and let Russia, China, everybody else have them,’ he argued. 

The president has claimed a $110 billion investment from the Saudis in defense equipment that would disappear if the U.S. sanctioned the nation’s military sector.

‘If you think I’m going to let Russia have that money or those things, if you think I’m going to let China make the military equipment — hey, China and Russia would love to make a hundred billion dollars worth of military equipment from Saudi Arabia. We have the contracts. They wanted those contracts,’ he said last Tuesday.

‘That would be a big fat beautiful gift to Russia and China. They are not going to get that gift.’ 

If he were to act against the kingdom, Trump suggested there would be a global economic meltdown. 

‘Right now we have oil prices in great shape. I’m not going to destroy the world economy, and I’m not going to destroy the economy for our country by being foolish with Saudi Arabia.’

He added, ‘I think the statement was pretty obvious what I said. It’s about America First.’      

The president says he is still open to sanctions that could be imposed by Congress in the lame duck session but would only support them if they were in the United States’ national security interests.

He insisted, ‘The crime against Jamal Khashoggi was a terrible one, and one that our country does not condone.’

Yet, the U.S. president said he would take no further action because the United States’ relationship with Saudi Arabia is too valuable.

‘That being said, we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi. In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,’ he asserted.    

‘They have been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran. The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region.’

Trump claimed on Thanksgiving Day that the CIA has not ‘concluded’ the Saudi crown prince ordered Khashoggi’s murder.

‘Whether he did or whether he didn’t, he denies it vehemently,’ Trump said to reporters after he spoke by the phone with U.S. troops. ‘The CIA doesn’t say they did it. They do point out certain things, and in pointing out those things, you can conclude that maybe he did or maybe he didn’t.’

Trump claimed: ‘The CIA points it both ways. And as I said, maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. I will say very strongly that it’s a very important ally.’

Graham said Tuesday ahead of the briefing with Haspel  that Trump’s concerns are overblown. 

‘The fear that the Saudis will stop cooperating with the U.S. on terrorism or Iran isn’t rational. Those threats pose as much of a danger to the Saudis as they do to America,’ he said.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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