Republican senators emerged from a briefing Tuesday about journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s killing and essentially accused the Trump administration of misleading the country about it — and even covering it up for Saudi Arabia.
In remarks after a briefing from CIA Director Gina Haspel, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) suggested there is no plausible way that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman didn’t order the killing of Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributing columnist, and said that the evidence is overwhelming.
This is completely contrary to the narrative that has been put forward by President Trump and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo. Trump has said it’s unknowable whether the crown prince was actually behind it — despite the CIA concluding this with “high confidence” — while Pompeo said last week that there was no “direct reporting” implicating him.
Graham said Tuesday that you’d have to be “willfully blind” to not know Mohammed was responsible — a clear rebuke of Trump’s argument that this whole thing resides in some kind of gray area.
Graham was also asked about Pompeo’s comments and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’s comments that there was no “smoking gun.” The senator said there was indeed a “smoking saw” — a reference to the reported bonesaw that was brought to dismember Khashoggi — and that Pompeo was being a “good soldier” by toeing the administration’s line. So that’s basically saying Pompeo aided Trump’s “willful” effort to obscure the truth.
“If they were in a Democratic administration,” Graham said of Pompeo and Mattis, “I would be all over them for being in the pocket of Saudi Arabia.”
Corker was about as full-throated, saying, “If the crown prince went in front of a jury, he would be convicted in 30 minutes” — another clear rebuke to Trump’s statement and Pompeo’s and Mattis’s suggestions that this is some kind of unknown.
Corker also suggested that the briefing last week, which featured Pompeo and Mattis but not Haspel, was entirely misleading. When asked whether there was a difference in the message about Mohammed’s culpability, Corker compared it to the “difference between darkness and sunshine.”
To be clear, these senators aren’t just accusing the administration of missing the point on Khashoggi; they’re saying they feel misled and that the administration has obscured the truth. Graham saying he’d question Pompeo’s and Mattis’s motives if this were a Democratic administration is a particularly striking statement — and one from someone who is a frequent Trump ally these days. Corker has been more of a Trump critic, but his suggestion the he feels last week’s briefing wasn’t on the up-and-up is also remarkable from a Republican.
Questioning Trump is not unprecedented for Republicans in Congress; the fact that they are going there on Pompeo and even Mattis, who is perhaps the most bipartisan figure in the administration, shows the severe degree of concern about the lack of consequences. These senators are serving notice that they won’t back down without a fight — a fight that could tar both Pompeo’s and Mattis’s legacies.