US Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) speaks to reporters after attending a closed-door briefing, on the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, by CIA Director Gina Haspel in Washington on Dec 4, 2018. -Reuters
A bipartisan group of senior senators said Tuesday that a classified briefing by the CIA director had only solidified their belief that Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, ordered the killing of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi.
Crown Prince Mohammed "is a wrecking ball," Sen Lindsey Graham, R-SC, told reporters after an hour-long briefing by the CIA director, Gina Haspel, reports NYT. "I think he's complicit in the murder of Khashoggi to the highest level possible."
Richard Shelby, R-Ala, the Appropriations Committee chairman, echoed that "all evidence points to that, that all this leads back to the crown prince."
The assessment put Republican senators at odds with the White House, which has steadfastly refused to cast blame on Saudi Arabia's leadership for the death of Khashoggi, a US resident and Washington Post columnist. His killing prompted outrage over the kingdom's heavy-handed tactics and renewed attention to the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
Senators were eager to hear directly from Haspel about what officials have described as the CIA's conclusion that Crown Prince Mohammed had ordered Khashoggi's killing. The intelligence agency is also believed to have evidence the crown prince communicated repeatedly with an aide who commanded the team that assassinated Khashoggi, around the time of the journalist's death Oct. 2.
Tuesday's briefing offered a stark contrast to one given a week ago to the entire Senate by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Jim Mattis. Senators emerged from that session largely un-persuaded by the Trump administration's case for the Saudi-led war in Yemen; they had griped that Haspel was not there to provide a fuller understanding of Khashoggi's death.
Graham had initially threatened to withhold support for legislative priorities until he was briefed by Haspel. He said Tuesday it was clear Pompeo and Mattis were being "good soldiers" for the White House when they briefed senators last week.
But he also called their assessments misleading.Senators did not say exactly what Haspel said during the classified session that convinced them of Crown Prince Mohammed's guilt. The briefing was offered only to the top Republicans and Democrats on the Armed Services, Foreign Relations, Appropriations and Intelligence committees, as well as to other Senate leaders.
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