A bipartisan group of senators filed a resolution Wednesday to condemn Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as responsible for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, directly challenging President Trump to do the same.
“This resolution — without equivocation — definitively states that the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia was complicit in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi and has been a wrecking ball to the region jeopardizing our national security interests on multiple fronts,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said in a statement accompanying the release of the resolution. “It will be up to Saudi Arabia as to how to deal with this matter. But it is up to the United States to firmly stand for who we are and what we believe.”
The resolution put forward by Graham and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who are expected to lead the Judiciary Committee together next year, comes just one day after CIA Director Gina Haspel briefed leading senators about the details of the agency’s assessment that Mohammed ordered and monitored the killing and dismemberment of Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Senators emerged from that closed-door briefing furious not only with Saudi Arabia, but Trump as well, for dismissing the heft of the CIA’s findings.
“You have to be willfully blind not to come to the conclusion that this was orchestrated and organized by people under the command of MBS and that he was intricately involved in the demise of Mr. Khashoggi,” Graham said following the briefing, referring to Mohammed by his initials. He added that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who briefed senators last week, were at best being “good soldiers” and at worst were “in the pocket of Saudi Arabia” for presenting the evidence of Mohammed’s involvement as inconclusive.
The release of the resolution condemning Mohammed also comes as the Senate is preparing to move ahead with debate on a resolution to curtail U.S. support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen. Though the Yemen resolution does not directly address Khashoggi’s murder, its popularity is a sign of how strained the United States’ patience with Saudi Arabia is on multiple fronts, including its role in worsening the civilian cost of the war in Yemen, cited by the United Nations as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Last week, the Senate voted 63 to 37 to advance the Yemen resolution past an opening procedural hurdle. But Graham and Feinstein’s resolution on the crown prince has the potential of drawing broader support, especially from Republicans, who are deeply divided about how fiercely to punish Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi’s killing.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who has been an outspoken advocate for human rights and is seen as one of the more influential foreign policy voices in the GOP, did not vote for the Yemen resolution last week or sign on to a bipartisan measure last month to sanction Saudi officials and cease weapons transfers to the kingdom. But he is an original co-sponsor of the resolution condemning Mohammed over Khashoggi’s death.
So is Sen. Todd C. Young (R-Ind.), who represents the other end of the GOP spectrum in terms of recent Saudi-related votes and endorsements. Young was an initial co-sponsor of the bill Graham wrote with Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) to sanction Saudi officials deemed responsible for Khashoggi’s killing and stop the sale of anything but exclusively defensive weapons to the kingdom until it ceased hostilities in Yemen. Young also voted to advance the Yemen resolution — something Graham did as well, though Graham has signaled he will not be lending any similar support to the measure, fearing it may establish a precedent of invoking the War Powers Act too broadly.
Sens. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) are listed as original co-sponsors of the resolution condemning Mohammed, which also urges Saudi Arabia to negotiate with Houthi rebels to end the Yemen war, work out a political solution to its standoff with Qatar and release political prisoners.
But how much sway the resolution has probably comes down to how forcefully the administration decides to heed it — and thus far, Trump has not shown any interest in condemning the crown prince the way the senators hope he will.