"There is no smoke gun, there is a smoke seen," later said Lindsey Graham, referring to allegations that the Saudi…
“There is no smoke gun, there is a smoke seen,” later said Lindsey Graham, referring to allegations that the Saudi Arabian forces clashed Khashoggi’s body after killing him in October in the Saudi embassy in Turkey.
The Republic of South Carolina aimed at the White House’s insistence that US intelligence agencies had no direct evidence linking the murder of Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, even though it was carried out by members of his internal circle. “You have to be careful blind to not come to the conclusion that this was orchestrated and organized by people led by MBS.”
The current Republican later Bob Corker told reporters that there was “no matter in my mind” that the MBS was behind the death. “If he was in front of a jury,” said the Tennessee republic, “he would be sentenced within 30 minutes, guilty”.
From the early leaks of its cruel details to President Donald Trump’s subdued response to Tuesday’s full-throated punishment by Republican senators, the Khashoggi assassination has been an exercise in political misconduct and discord. What could have been an opportunity to create a uniform American response has shifted to a political suspension, which lies in only divisions between the White House, the intelligence service and the congress.
For several weeks, the Trump administration has tried to separate the crown prince from scary murder. It has also been attempted to frame the broader issue as a binary choice of either alignment with its defense in Saudi Arabia or risk discontinuing relations with one of America’s closest Middle Eastern partners. Even for national security officers like Lindsey Graham, who is among the president’s closest allies in Congress and himself is a long-standing supporter to Saudi Arabia, it has been a bridge too far.
The Khashoggi assassination has also worsened the tension between the White House and Congress on America’s support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, which has become a full-blown humanitarian crisis, which forces a government to stop a conflict ̵
Interviews with More than a dozen US legislators and intelligence officials reveal a deep frustration and anger over what many describe as the government’s bulky response at home and abroad to a wounded murder raising questions about the character of the American alliance with the Saudis and US claims about moral leadership in the world.
Last week, the White House sent its two most prominent cabinet last week officials to Capitol Hill. But the visit by Foreign Minister Mike Pompeo and Defense Minister Jim Mattis seemed to hurt more than well.
Instead of receiving a direct letter from CIA director Gina Haspel, as many had requested, legislators received a limited version emphasizing a technical difference that the CIA had no direct evidence that MBS had ordered Khashoggi murder despite the fact that the CIA rarely contains direct evidence in its assessments.
It did not help legislators wake up that morning to a hard-puppet of Pompeo on the pages of the Wall Street Journal. In the criticized Pompeo “Capitol Hill caterwauling and media pile-on” murder had developed and equated critics of the Saudis with the supporters of President Barack Obama’s Iran Agreement – a feeling landed under a leading GOP aide as a lead ball. “ The frustration led to a bipartical rebellion for all to see, live on the floor of the US Senate. Minutes after Pompeo and Mattis left, voted for a majority of senators, including 14 Republicans, to negotiate a resolution to limit United States support to Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen – a resolution failed in March and that Pompeo and Mattis had urged them to reject.
A week later, Graham landed his own edition in the Wall Street Journal, defending Congress’s right to oppose the administration to “protect the country’s long-term interests, values and reputation.”
“After all,” wrote Graham, “someone must do it.”
For its part, the administration has condemned the murder and imposed sanctions of 17 people attached to it. At the same time, Trump and top administration officials have consistently cited the historical alliance between the two countries and framed claims about MBS’s commitment as an attack that could threaten the relationship. It has rationalized that the position with what it claims is the lack of a final conclusion by the CIA on the question of whether MBS ruled the murder.
However, this rationale has deteriorated as a steady drop of details related to the CIA’s assessment of Mord has painted an increasingly condemning image related to the Crown Prince’s potential involvement.
Last month, the CIA reported a report on the murder of legislators in the “Gang of Eight” chairpersons and top democrats in the two intelligence committees and the four House and Senate party leaders. When the details leaked, including the CIA having determined with great confidence that the MBS ruled the killing, Trump and White House officials blamed the CIA to inform too many people, according to several US officials. In turn, members of the intelligence service were angry with the way in which Haspel was driven in the midst of a political struggle between the White House and Congress.
Last week when Pompeo and Mattis visited the hill, Haspel left from the center after legislators claiming that the White House prevented her from appearing. The CIA issued a rare record statement confirming it and said “the thought that someone told Director Haspel that he would not participate in today’s summary is false.” And several US officials pointed out that her preference was always to stay out of the spotlight.
Although there is no indication that the administration explicitly announced Haspel explicitly whether she could participate, several sources noted that the White House had made it clear, even if it was not directly to Haspel that they did not want her there and that she had little reason to drive the question, as it would only hurt her who was in administration.
When a small group of senior senators is responsible for direct supervision of the agency and its funding requests her to shorten them, Haspel had no choice but to impose. Her appearance drew sharp statements from legislators who compared her briefing positively to what they had received from Pompeo and Mattis. Corker told CNN Haspel delivered “The most precise presentation I have ever heard in 12 years.”
In the lead of this week’s map, the president and his aids as leaks continued to show that the CIA has evidence that MBS and a top helper involved in Khashoggi killings were exchanged several messages around the deadline. However, the details of these messages have not been disclosed.
At the G20 summit in Argentina this weekend, pictures of Russian President Vladimir Putin were met to relax the young Saudi prince with some degree of satisfaction among Trump’s helpers – the best illustration of what might look like Riyadh will turn away from the United States and against other, more repressive regimes.
Trumps meetings with MBS at G20 were consciously kept to a minimum. Advisors piled up the president’s agenda with meetings, which made some time for extended discussions with the Crown Prince. When the two ran across each other on the margins for a group meeting, there was some time for detailed conversations. The discussion was cordial, a person familiar with it and not the kind of direct confrontation that French President Emmanuel Macron employed when he ran over MBS at the summit.
Animating a lot of anger among legislators over the Khashoggi store is meant to have been ignored throughout the process. According to interviews with more than a dozen senators and assistants, the administration’s refusal to count when raising concerns about the murder, as well as the growing crisis in Yemen. As many as 14 million Yemenite suffer from severe food shortage, aid organizations say, while an estimated 85,000 children under 5 years may have died of starvation or illness, according to Save the Children.
Corker made clear that he had no desire to support the resolution that sharpened US military assistance for Saudi operations in Yemen. Today, he asked the administration, privately and publicly, to change courses. A statement. A more active political response. Something to send a message to the young Saudi crown prince. But nothing came., So he voted to support the resolution despite opposing his intention.
While Corker has often checked with Trump, the administration’s courteous attitude toward Saudi Arabia has become part of its strongest allies to critics. Sen Todd Young is an excellent example. An Indiana Republic and Republic Naval Academy, Young is known for being a stable national security hawk – and he recently said he “will take a backseat to no-one as an Iranian hawk” – but for almost two years he has done a primary focus on the expanding humanitarian crisis in Yemen and push the administration to change the conflict’s path.
He is also famous for being shy, avoiding interview interviews with reporters and rarely weighing into questions if he has no special points to do.
It changed just before Pompey’s briefing, when Young and a aide went up to a group of reporters who stood close to a karaoke and said he wanted to make a statement on the camera. He stopped taking the senate floor instead, where he released a blowing speech.
Young-listed administration for months had not taken seriously a statutory requirement to certify that the government of Saudi Arabia took steps to end the civil war in Yemen and the resulting humanitarian crisis. The certification that the administration had sent – which was demanded by a measure Young had helped craft and pushed in law – “Was not trustworthy,” he said on the floor. “Despite repeated requests for answers to our questions regarding Saudi Arabia and Yemen we were unable to receive responsive or current responses from the administration.”
Young then performed a bipartisan follow-up letter, which prompted the administration to clarify clear inconsistencies in its certification. It had been ignored until the day before Pompey’s briefing, when the administration, last acknowledged the problem it was in the vote in Yemen, finally responded. How it was received: “It was late, and it did not respond,” said Young. He would also join Corker to support the Yemen action he had previously opposed, he said.
While most of the about dozen senators informed by Haspel said that the United States should issue an answer that punishes those involved in the Khashoggi assassination, there is still no consensus about what to do or even about Congress has bandwidth to pass something with teeth. The Republican-led parliament has made it clear that it will not address anything that the Senate sends its way. It is less than a month to attend the congress’s present meeting, and of course the president could veto all bills sent.
Wednesday night, Graham – along with Sens. Marco Rubio, Dianne Feinstein, Ed Markey, Todd Young and Chris Coons introduced a highly formulated but non-binding resolution condemning the crown prince for a series of actions including the Yemen crisis, the blockade in Qatar, the imprisonment of dissidents and the killing of Khashoggi. The action is a symbolic punishment – and can be added to a broader package target for Saudi Arabia.
“Those who propose that we must sacrifice our principles of security will neither have,” said Young, a republican from Indiana.
Graham and Young, along with Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the top democrat on the Foreign Relation Panel, runs a separate bill to demand mandatory sanctions for every individual responsible for the death of Khashoggi, which may include MBS. It would also require, inter alia, a total ban on the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia that could be used for offensive purposes – a potential flash point for a president who has repeatedly been carrying out arms sales to the empire as he describes the US-Saudi relationship.
Discussion is about whether to go up to the vote on the Senate floor in order for resolution to stop US support for the war in Yemen, or to open the word to a possible unjustified change process. Corker creates an amendment that would directly address the Khashogi question, possibly separating it from Yemen. Senate assistants say the process remains fluid, as Capitol Hill meetings continue behind closed doors.
The true meaning of congress papers, senators and assistants involved in the efforts says, is the message it sends to the world, especially when the parties negotiate in Sweden over a ceasefire. Pompeo has emphasized the importance of giving the fighting parties in Yemen space to reach an agreement rather than affecting pressure from Congress. “The more support from you we get the better chance we have to end the conflict and stop the suffering that neither of us is happy about.”
The government’s efforts on that front have not only been confined to Congress. CNN reported last month that the US had “hit the brakes” a UN Security Council resolution calling for limited arms support and increased humanitarian aid in Yemen, over concerns about Saudi Arabia.
The White House’s defense against Saudi and the explicit support for MBS-shows no signs of decline, a calculation defined by the long-term relationship and its value to counter enemies such as Iran. The last few weeks have shown that it is a stance, though fixed, which may be at a cost. Already some of Capitol Hills stalwart Trump supporters have broken the president and his cabinet on this issue. Graham, a Trump golf partner and vocal supporter of the president and his supreme lieutenant, went as far as accusing Pompeo and Mattis of deliberate ignorance. “I think they do not conclude that (MBS) is complicated is that administration does not want to go down that road.”
CNN’s Kevin Liptak and Manu Raju contributed to this report.