US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, said on Wednesday that there was no direct evidence connecting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi on October 2 in Istanbul.
Pompeo spoke to reporters after he and Defence Secretary, Jim Mattis, told the Senate behind closed doors that weakening US-Saudi ties over the killing would hurt national security.
“There is no direct reporting connecting the crown prince to the order to murder Jamal Khashoggi,” Pompeo said.
However, many senators left the briefing saying otherwise.
“I don’t think there’s anybody in the room that doesn’t believe he was responsible for it,” Sen. Bob Corker, the Republican Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters after the briefing.
“MbS has not taken ownership of the death,” Corker said, using the short-hand initials for the crown prince.
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The CIA has assessed that the crown prince had ordered the October 2 killing of Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Republican Senator, Lindsey Graham, said he would withhold his vote on any key issue, including a government spending bill, until he gets a briefing on the topic from the CIA.
“I am not going to be denied the ability to be briefed by the CIA, that we have oversight of, about whether or not their assessment supports my belief that this could not have happened without MbS knowing,” Graham told reporters.
Leading Democratic senators said the intelligence they had seen convinced them of the crown prince’s role in murder of Khashoggi, a Washington Post journalist and US resident.
Senior members of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet urged US senators on Wednesday not to downgrade ties with Saudi Arabia over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi would be a mistake for national security and would not push Saudis in a better direction at home.
“The October murder of Saudi national, Jamal Khashoggi, in Turkey has heightened the Capitol Hill caterwauling and media pile-on.
“But degrading US-Saudi ties would be a grave mistake for the national security of the US and its allies,” Pompeo wrote in a blog post released shortly before the briefing.
Trump has dismissed a CIA assessment that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s killing.
Trump last week vowed to remain a “steadfast partner’’ of Saudi Arabia and said it was not clear whether the prince knew about the plan to kill Khashoggi.
Those comments further angered members of the US Congress, including some of Trump’s fellow Republicans, who have demanded an investigation of potential involvement by the crown prince.
“We have a problem here. We understand that Saudi Arabia is an ally, of sorts, and a semi important country,” said Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“We also have a crown prince that’s out of control.’’
Democratic Senator, Bob Menendez, said Washington was basically telling an ally “you can kill with impunity”.