CIA director Gina Haspel meets with a small group of US senators, including the chairmen and ranking senators on the key national security committees, to brief them on the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi

Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi speaks at an event hosted by Middle East Monitor in London, Britain, September 29, 2018. Picture taken September 29, 2018.
Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi speaks at an event hosted by Middle East Monitor in London, Britain, September 29, 2018. Picture taken September 29, 2018. (Reuters Archive)

Leading US senators said on Tuesday they were more certain than ever that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was responsible for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi after receiving a CIA briefing on the matter.

The CIA director met with a small group of senators, including the chairmen and ranking senators on the key national security committees.

TRT World's Sally Ayhan has more.

After the briefing, Democratic Senator Bob Menendez said the US must have strong response to Yemen war and Jamal Khashoggi's killing.

He added that the US must send clear and unequivocal message to the Saudis and sanctions beyond what currently exist against Riyadh would send that message.

US Republican Senator Richard Shelby said the CIA director's briefing on Jamal Khashoggi's homicide confirmed a lot of "our thoughts about the reprehensible killing, something no one in the US would approve of."

CIA Director Gina Haspel is expected to brief leaders and top committee members of the US House of Representatives within the next two weeks on the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a source familiar with the plans said.

Following the briefing by Gina Haspel Republican Senator Lindsey Graham called on President Trump to take a tougher stance with Riyadh.  He said he will push the Senate to vote on a resolution that finds Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) complicit in Khashoggi's killing.

He said "MBS is a wrecking ball and he is complicit in the murder of Khashoggi to the highest level possible. I think the behaviour before the Khashoggi murder was beyond disturbing and i cannot see him being a reliable partner to the US."

"I think he is crazy, I think he is dangerous and he has put the relationship (between US and Saudi Arabia) at risk there is not a smoking gun, there is a smoking saw."

"You have to be willfully blind not to come to the conclusion that this was orchestrated and organised by people under the command of MBS and that he was intricately involved in the demise of Mr Khashoggi," Graham said.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker said he believes if the crown prince were put on trial, a jury would find him guilty in "about 30 minutes."

Senators from both parties were angry last week that Haspel didn't attend a closed-door session with top administration officials about Khashoggi's killing and the US response, which many senators have said is lacking.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis led the earlier briefing and tried to dissuade senators from punishing Saudi Arabia with a resolution to curtail US backing for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. 

Human rights groups say the war is wreaking havoc on the country and subjecting civilians to indiscriminate bombing.

After that briefing, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham threatened to withhold his vote on key legislation until he heard from Haspel. "I'm not going to blow past this," he said. 

That afternoon, senators frustrated with the briefing and the lack of response to Khashoggi's killing overwhelmingly voted to move forward with consideration of the Yemen resolution, 63-37.

The CIA said Haspel didn't attend because she had already briefed congressional leaders on Khashoggi. 

In another explanation, a White House official said Haspel decided not to participate in part because of frustration with lawmakers leaking classified intelligence from such settings. 

The White House official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official wasn't authorised to discuss internal matters publicly.

Still, the agency later agreed to do an additional briefing with a select group of senators. 

Top Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Armed Services, Foreign Relations and intelligence panels and a few others were among those who attended Haspel's briefing on Tuesday.

Some senators were frustrated that they were not invited to the briefing with Haspel. 

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, a critic of Saudi Arabia, said that excluding some lawmakers is "the very definition of the deep state" and that he suspected that the Trump administration is attempting to get some lawmakers to switch their votes on the resolution by giving them information.

Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2. 

The journalist, who had lived for a time in the US and wrote for The Washington Post, had been critical of the Saudi regime. 

He was killed in what US officials have described as an elaborate plot as he visited the consulate for marriage paperwork.

US intelligence officials have concluded that the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, must have at least known of the plot, but President Donald Trump has equivocated over who was to blame. 

Trump has touted Saudi arms deals worth billions of dollars to the US and recently thanked Saudi Arabia for plunging oil prices.

Echoing Trump's public comments on the killing, Pompeo said after last week's briefing with senators that there was "no direct reporting" connecting the crown prince to the murder.

That reluctance to blame the crown prince has enraged some Republicans. 

In a column for the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, Graham wrote that the killing and other moves by the Saudi regime showed "astounding arrogance entitlement" and disregard for international norms.

"We are a coequal branch of government exercising leadership to safeguard the country's long-term interests, values and reputation," wrote Graham, a frequent ally of the president. "After all, someone's got to do it."

Last week's vote set up debate on Senate passage of the Yemen resolution, which could happen next week. 

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said there are still ongoing negotiations over amendments to the resolution.

"We're not quite there yet," Corker said ahead of the briefing.

Even if the Yemen resolution passes the Senate, it appears unlikely to advance in the House. Speaker Paul Ryan last week said the Yemen resolution "isn't the way to go."

Source: TRTWorld and agencies