Pompeo: No Direct Link Between Crown Prince, Khashoggi Murder
CAPITOL HILL —
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says based on all the intelligence he has seen, there is no direct evidence linking between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at Riyadh's consulate in Turkey.
Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis briefed the full U.S. Senate about the murder, amid concerns by members of both parties that CIA Director Gina Haspel was not in attendance.
When asked why Haspel wasn't there, Pompeo answered "I was asked to be here and here I am.”
Mattis told senators the "fundamental" role Saudi Arabia plays in maintaining stability in the Middle East cannot be dismissed, even as the United States seeks accountability for last month's murder of Khashoggi.
According to news reports, the CIA has assessed that Salman ordered Khashoggi killed. Saudi Arabia has denied the allegation, blaming the death on rogue agents. U.S. President Donald Trump has echoed Riyadh’s denials and said the matter remains an open question.
Pompeo told senators that "degrading ties with Saudi Arabia would be a grave mistake for U.S. national security, and that of our allies."
The Trump administration has sanctioned 17 Saudi officials but argued against tougher measures to punish Riyadh, with the president highlighting the economic importance of U.S. arms sales to the kingdom.
Secretary Pompeo says the U.S. doesn't condone Khashoggi's murder while also warning against harming U.S. – Saudi ties. "The October murder of Saudi national Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey has heightened the Capitol Hill caterwauling and media pile-on. But degrading U.S.-Saudi ties would be a grave mistake for the national security of the U.S. and its allies," he wrote in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal.
Trump and his administration's stance has been widely criticized by lawmakers, including some of his most vocal backers.
“He [Trump] is focused on the strategic [U.S.-Saudi] relationship, which I understand,” Republican Senator Lindsay Graham said Tuesday. “The difference I have is that to give MBS [Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman] a pass — if he clearly is complicit — is a huge mistake. One of the most dangerous things is for an ally of the United States to disrespect our values and be so flagrant about it.”
In coming days, the Senate is expected to vote on ending U.S. backing for the Saudi-led coalition’s military campaign in Yemen, a measure that was defeated earlier this year but has been revived amid mounting anger with the kingdom on Capitol Hill.
“I think we have a real good shot at doing this [passing the resolution],” Vermont independent Senator Bernie Sanders, who co-authored the measure, said. “There is a growing understanding of the humanitarian disaster [in Yemen]. People are understanding the despotic nature of the Saudi regime.”
“We shouldn’t be rewarding regimes that are indiscriminately bombing civilians in Yemen, and I’m for ending the arms sales that we have with Saudi Arabia,” Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky said.
“On both sides of the aisle there is a growing frustration with the lack of willingness by the administration to challenge the Saudis, particularly on the Khashoggi killing but also on the question of Yemen,” Menendez said. “You just can’t let an ally do anything they want simply because they’re an ally. And if you do, you send a global message that you can kill with impunity.”
Not all senators endorse a heavily punitive treatment of Riyadh, however.
“I think our challenge here is how to express our disappointment and condemnation to Saudi Arabia without rupturing the relationship,” Louisiana Republican Senator John Kennedy said. “The president has said: this murder was wrong, we may never know with 100 percent certainty who ordered who to do what, but that Saudi Arabia needs to be held responsible. And I agree with that.”
“We should be very careful,” Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma said. “Yes, we don’t want to accept the brutality surrounding the murder. But we’ve got to maintain a relationship and I anticipate that we will.”