CIA Director Gina Haspel on Tuesday will brief a key group of senators behind closed doors on the details of the agency’s assessment that the Saudi crown prince likely ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, just days before the Senate is expected to begin debating a resolution to withdraw support for the Saudi military campaign in Yemen.
The briefing will be just for Senate leaders and the heads of national security committees seen as having an interest in Saudi policy regarding Yemen and the intelligence surrounding Khashoggi’s killing, according to multiple people familiar with plans.
Bipartisan leaders from the Foreign Relations Committee, the Armed Services Committee, the Intelligence Committee and the Appropriations subcommittees that fund the State and Defense departments are expected to be included. The plan for the briefing was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
Republican and Democratic senators have been demanding to hear from Haspel, who was noticeably absent last week from a similar, all-senators briefing with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Senators complained that the Trump administration was depriving Congress of key information about the killing of Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributing columnist, by refusing to order Haspel to go to the Hill and explain the CIA’s assessment that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was probably responsible.
Some senators accused the White House of barring Haspel’s participation, prompting CIA spokesman Timothy Barrett to declare that nobody had told Haspel not to appear.
But the furor was so serious that even Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a confidant of President Trump’s, said he would refuse to support “any key vote” until Haspel came to the Hill to speak to lawmakers. As the senior Republican on the Appropriations panel for state and foreign operations, Graham will be part of the briefing.
Last week, the Senate took the historic step of voting to take up a resolution, spearheaded by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), to end American support for the Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen, where humanitarian conditions have reached a crisis level.
For some of the 14 Republicans who supported the opening procedural step last week, the vote was intended as a warning shot to Trump, to inspire him to start openly condemning Mohammed or withholding military support. Haspel’s briefing may placate some of those senators.
But it is not expected to deter Senate Democrats — or the handful of Republicans who believe Saudi Arabia should be rebuked — from supporting the Yemen resolution past its next procedural step, a vote expected to take place in the next few days.