News & Politics

CIA Director Gina Haspel finally addresses key senators in closed-door briefing on Jamal Khashoggi killing

The CIA's findings reportedly contradict Trump's favored line.

Photo Credit: CBSN

CIA Director Gina Haspel held a closed-door briefing today in Washington, DC, addressing several senators on the killing of Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. And comments from Sen. Lindsey Graham, who attended the briefing, underscore the divide between some GOP senators and the Trump Administration on the murder of Khashoggi—who was killed inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on October 2.

The Saudi government has maintained that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a.k.a. MBS, was killed during a kidnapping attempt and a rogue operation gone wrong—and that MBS himself did not order the killing. But according to reports, CIA intelligence implicates MBS and indicates that Khashoggi’s killers were likely acting on direct orders from the Saudi crown prince.

Speaking to reporters after the briefing, Graham explained, “I went into the brief believing that it was virtually impossible for an operation like this to be carried out without the crown prince’s knowledge. I left the briefing with high confidence that my initial assessment of the situation is correct.”

The South Carolina senator continued, “Saudi Arabia is a strategic ally, and the relationship is worth saving—but not at all cost. We’ll do more damage to our standing in the world and our national security by ignoring MBS than dealing with him. MBS, the crown prince, is a wrecking ball. I think he is complicit in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi to the highest level possible. I think the behavior before the Khashoggi murder was beyond disturbing, and I cannot see him being a reliable partner to the United States.”

Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee was equally convinced that MBS played a key role in Khashoggi’s murder—telling reporters after the briefing, “If the Crown Prince went in front of a jury, he would be convicted in 30 minutes.” And when a reporter asked Corker if it would be a murder conviction, he replied, “Yes.”

Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton, however, have all asserted that there is no real proof that Khashoggi’s killing was ordered by MBS. But according to Graham, “(There is) zero chance—zero—that this happened without the crown prince.” And today’s briefing with Haspel seemed to reaffirm Graham’s belief that MBS was behind Khashoggi’s murder.

Some senators have complained about the way the briefing was handled today, including Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul—who asserted that he shouldn’t have been excluded from it and that the full Senate should have been briefed rather than strictly a handful of senators.

On November 20, Trump issued an official statement on U.S./Saudi Arabia relations, emphasizing that he still considered the Saudi royal family valuable allies and had no interest in imposing any sanctions on the Saudi government. And the Trump Administration’s support of MBS was equally evident during a November 27 briefing that Haspel was conspicuously absent from.

When Bolton was asked, at that November 27 briefing, whether or not he had listened to an audio recording of Khashoggi’s killing, Trump’s national security advisor responded that he saw no point in listening to it because it was in Arabic.

“Unless you speak Arabic, what are you going to get from it?” Bolton argued. MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, in response, described Bolton’s assertion as “imbecilic.” And veteran Democratic consultant Paul Begala was equally critical of Bolton; in a November 29 article for CNN.com, Begala wrote, “Sure, (the) comments are in Arabic, but torture is a universal language.”

Last week, a combination of Republican and Democratic senators voted, 63-37, to advance a resolution to end U.S. support for Saudi forces in Yemen.

Khashoggi’s murder is a rare example of Senate Republicans—at least some of them—parting company with the Trump Administration on foreign policy. And for once, Graham and Democrats in Congress have found something they can agree on.

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Alex Henderson is a news writer at AlterNet and veteran political journalist. His work has also appeared in Salon, Raw Story, Truthdig, National Memo, Philadelphia Weekly, Democratic Underground, L.A. Weekly, MintPress News and many other publications. Follow him on Twitter @alexvhenderson.