CAPITOL HILL: The gulf between the White House and U.S. lawmakers regarding Saudi Arabia grew Wednesday after two top members of President Donald Trump’s national security team provided a classified briefing to the full Senate.
Nearly two months after a dissident Saudi journalist was killed at the kingdom’s consulate in Turkey, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis urged preservation of Washington’s historically close ties to Riyadh, including U.S. support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen.
That message fell on increasingly deaf ears as senators of both parties blasted the exclusion of CIA Director Gina Haspel from the closed-door encounter. The CIA is widely reported to have concluded that Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the slaying of Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S. resident.
Not having Gina Haspel at this briefing is a cover-up,” the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Menendez of New Jersey, told reporters. “It tells me volumes about what really is going on here.”
“Look, he [Salman] is responsible for this death [of Khashoggi],” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican. “The fact that he hasn’t come clean, the fact that we haven’t forced him to come clean, is creating a problem. And Congress is likely to respond to this.”
Pompeo said based on all the intelligence he has seen, there is no direct evidence linking the crown prince to Khashoggi’s death. He also strongly objected to a pending Senate resolution to halt American backing for Saudi Arabia’s actions in Yemen, describing it as “poorly timed” and arguing it would scuttle efforts to end the country’s devastating civil war.
“Passing a resolution at this point undermines that [peace effort]. It would encourage the Houthis [Yemeni rebels]. It would encourage the Iranians,” Pompeo said.