CIA briefs House leaders on Khashoggi as vote nears
Washington – CIA Director Gina Haspel briefed House leaders on Wednesday on the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi as the Senate prepared for a possible vote on two resolutions that would rebuke Saudi Arabia for its role in the slaying.
Two people familiar with the meeting said House leaders were receiving a briefing from Haspel Wednesday morning, a day before Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis are to brief the full House on the killing. The people spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the classified briefing.
Lawmakers leaving the briefing, including House Speaker Paul Ryan and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, declined to comment, saying it was classified.
Pompeo and Mattis briefed the Senate last month and told senators there was “no direct reporting” and “no smoking gun” to connect Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman to Khashoggi’s death at a Saudi Consulate in Turkey. But a smaller group of senators leaving a separate briefing with Haspel days later said there was “zero chance” the crown prince wasn’t involved.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that the Senate could vote as soon as Wednesday on a resolution calling on the U.S. to pull assistance from the Saudi-led war in Yemen, a measure that gained momentum after Khashoggi’s death. While a handful of Republicans support the resolution, which was sponsored by Republican Sen. Mike Lee and Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, McConnell and most other Republicans oppose it.
“I think every single member of this body shares grave concerns about the murder of Khashoggi and wants accountability,” McConnell said. “We also want to preserve a 70-year partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia, and we want to ensure it continues to serve American interests and stabilizes a dangerous and critical region.”
Human rights groups say the war in Yemen is wreaking havoc on the country and subjecting civilians to indiscriminate bombing. Sanders tweeted that “we must finally end US involvement in this humanitarian and strategic disaster.”
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, is preparing a separate resolution condemning the journalist’s killing. McConnell urged senators to vote for Corker’s measure, which he said “does a good job capturing bipartisan concerns about both the war in Yemen and the behavior of our Saudi partners more broadly.” Corker has not released the full text of that resolution.
It appears unlikely that the House would be willing to consider either measure. The House Rules Committee moved Tuesday night to make it harder for lawmakers there to call up a Yemen resolution if the Senate passes it.
Senators have been enraged over Khashoggi’s killing in October and over President Donald Trump’s equivocating on who is to blame. Pressed on a response to Saudi Arabia, the president has said the United States “intends to remain a steadfast partner” of the country, touted Saudi arms deals worth billions of dollars to the U.S. and thanked the country for plunging oil prices.
The journalist, who had lived in the U.S. and wrote for The Washington Post, had been critical of the Saudi regime. He was killed in what U.S. officials have described as an elaborate plot as he visited a consulate in Istanbul for marriage paperwork.
U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that the crown prince must have at least known of the plot, but Trump has been reluctant to pin the blame.
“It could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event,” Trump said in a lengthy statement Nov. 20. “Maybe he did, and maybe he didn’t!”
Saudi prosecutors have said a 15-man team sent to Istanbul killed Khashoggi with tranquilizers and then dismembered his body, which has not been found. Those findings came after Saudi authorities spent weeks denying Khashoggi had been killed in the consulate.
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