Republican Sen. Bob Corker on Thursday called the Trump administration’s continuing loyalty to the regime of Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman following Jamal Khashoggi’s murder “un-American.”
He and other top senators from both parties met Thursday to try to hammer out a deal to rebuke Saudi Arabia for the killing of the journalist — a slap at Team Trump’s insistence that there was insufficient evidence to link the prince to the October murder.
“Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t” have anything to do with Khashoggi’s death, Trump said in a statement last month that summed up the White House’s putative ambivalence.
But CIA Director Gina Haspel told key senators this week that there was irrefutable evidence that the prince ordered the murder of the Washington Post columnist, who had criticized the repressive monarchy.
The senators — Republicans Corker of Tennessee, Todd Young of Indiana and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Democrats Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Chris Murphy of Connecticut — hoped to reach a deal that would end US involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen, suspend arms sales with Saudi Arabia and punish the crown prince.
They discussed how to move forward on three separate proposals:
• One by Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Mike Lee of Utah and Murphy to curtail US involvement in the war in Yemen.
• Another by Young and Menendez to sanction individuals blocking aid to victims of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and people responsible for Khashoggi’s death as well as to suspend arms sales between the US and Saudis.
• And a bipartisan resolution officially blaming the crown prince for the journalist’s brutal murder in October.
“There’s a lot of momentum,” Corker said after the meeting.
“Not everyone supports every effort, but I would like all of the efforts to have a hearing,” said Corker, the lame duck chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Corker said Haspel gave the “most precise presentation I’ve ever heard in 12 years” in her briefing on the Khashoggi murder.
After hearing from her on Tuesday, key senators said that they were convinced that bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s killing in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul.
“There’s not a smoking gun, there’s a smoking saw,” Graham said, taking a shot at Defense Secretary James Mattis, who told senators last week that there was “no smoking gun” linking bin Salman to the killing.
Khashoggi was killed and then dismembered by a bone saw by a hit squad sent by bin Salman, the CIA concluded.
“We know he ordered it. We know he monitored it,” Corker said then.
Trump has said arms and other trade deals with the kingdom were too valuable to the US for him to take a hard line on the Saudis.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported that lobbyists representing the Saudi government reserved rooms at Trump’s Washington, DC, hotel within a month of his election in 2016 — paying about $270,000 for an estimated 500 nights at the luxury hotel in just three months.
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