Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took a few questions from reporters after briefing senators on the killing of Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi. But he had no real answers.
Asked about bipartisan gripes among the senators that CIA Director Gina Haspel had not been made available to brief them — which reports indicate was a decision made by the White House — Pompeo punted twice.
“I was asked to be here, and here I am,” he said.
When it was noted that Pompeo had given briefings of such import when he was CIA director, he said the same thing again: “I was asked to be here, and I’m here.”
Two answers, neither of them to the question that was asked.
The next questioner asked Pompeo, “Do you believe that the crown prince of Saudi Arabia” — Mohammed bin Salman — “ordered Jamal Khashoggi’s killing?” That’s a conclusion that the CIA, which Haspel runs and Pompeo used to run, has reached with “high confidence.”
Again, Pompeo chose not to answer it directly. Instead, he opted for highly specific language that could easily leave the wrong impression.
“I do believe I’ve read every piece of intelligence unless it’s come in the last few hours. I think I’ve read it all,” he said, before concluding: “There is no direct reporting connecting the crown prince to the order to murder Jamal Khashoggi. That’s all I can say in an unclassified setting.”
That may be all he could say, but it’s perhaps more notable because he doesn’t say that he doesn’t believe the crown prince was responsible. Pompeo ignored that question and instead offered a much narrower denial.
That denial leans heavily on the words “direct reporting.” CIA assessments are not criminal documents laying out irrefutable evidence. They are conclusions based upon the best American intelligence. That intelligence has concluded that Mohammed was behind Khashoggi’s killing, according to The Post’s reporting. By citing “direct reporting,” Pompeo is basically saying there is no smoking gun.
The selective answer is a political one as much as it is meant to respect confidential intelligence. Pompeo chose to rule out something very specific in the service the White House’s purposes — to lead people to believe Mohammed wasn’t involved and to support President Trump’s conclusion that there should be no repercussions for the killing of a U.S. resident who worked for an American newspaper, The Washington Post. Pompeo disclosed just enough to further that goal but avoid disclosing other information that’s not so convenient.
Given that and given the fact that the CIA director who is responsible for that inconvenient conclusion has not been made available to Congress — despite senators of both parties calling for that — it’s worth asking what the administration is afraid of. Why the very limited and clearly politically convenient version of transparency? Why not let the senators hear it directly from someone whose job this is? Is Haspel simply not willing to toe the administration line and offer misleading responses like Pompeo?
It sure seems as if that may be the case.