Senator Lindsey Graham said Tuesday that a briefing with CIA director Gina Haspel had confirmed his initial belief that Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered and dismembered at the direction of Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman.
“I left the briefing with high confidence that my initial confidence is correct,” Graham told reporters after exiting the briefing.
Graham, who led the bipartisan call for the White House to allow Haspel to brief lawmakers after she was reportedly barred from a briefing last week, said bin Salman’s role in Khashoggi’s assassination disqualified him as a potential diplomatic partner to the U.S.
“Saudi Arabia is a strategic ally, and the relationship is worth saving. But not at all costs. . . . [Mohammad bin Salman] is a wrecking ball. I think he is complicit in the murder of Khashoggi in the highest level possible. . . . I cannot see him being a reliable partner to the US,” Graham said.
Asked if there was a key piece of intelligence that convinced him his initial assesment of bin Salman’s culpability was correct, Graham responded that while there is “no smoking gun,” there is a “smoking saw,” presumably referring to the bone saw that is said to have been used to dismember Khashoggi so that Saudi operatives could carry his remains out of the Saudi embassy in Istanbul where he was murdered.
Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, echoed Graham’s endorsement of the CIA’s findings following Haspel’s briefing.
“I have zero question in my mind that the Crown Prince MBS ordered the killing, monitored the killing, knew exactly what was happening. Planned it in advance. If he was in front of a jury he would be convicted in 30 minutes. Guilty,” Corker said.
The White House has publicly supported Saudi officials’ claim that rogue operatives carried out Khashoggi’s murder without informing, or securing consent from, the crown prince. Asked about the Trump administration’s support for the Saudi version of events, Graham said that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was simply acting as a “good soldier” when he cast doubt on the CIA’s findings last week.
In detailing his preferred response to the CIA’s conclusion that the crown prince ordered Khashoggi’s murder, Graham said he would no longer support U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia in their current form.
“I want to make sure that Saudi Arabia is put on notice that business as usual has come to end for me. I will not look at the kingdom the same way that I used to look at it,” Graham said. “I will not support arms sales until all responsible for the death of Mr. Khashoggi have been brought to justice…and I will no longer support the war in Yemen as constructed.”