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Home » Home » US Senators Grill Trump’s Officials on Khasoggi

US Senators Grill Trump’s Officials on Khasoggi

Senator Bernie sanders independent and socialist from Vermont (FB photo for education only)

Senator Bernie sanders independent and socialist from Vermont (FB photo for education only)

WEBPUBLICA (NEW YORK) - Defying President Donald Trump, senators sent a strong signal that they want to punish Saudi Arabia for its role in the murder of journalist JamalKhashoggi. By a bipartisan 63-37 vote, the Senate opted to move forward with legislation calling for an end to U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen, Turkish Daily Hurriyet reported.

The vote on Wednesday was a rebuke not only to Saudi Arabia but also to Trump’s administration, which has made clear it does not want to torpedo the long-standing U.S. relationship with Riyadh over the killing.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis both came to Capitol Hill to urgently lobby against the resolution, which would call for an end to U.S. military assistance for the conflict that human rights advocates say is wreaking havoc on Yemen and subjecting civilians to indiscriminate bombing.

The vote showed a significant number of Republicans were willing to break with Trump to express their deep dissatisfaction with Saudi Arabia and with the U.S. response to Khashoggi’s brutal killing in Turkey last month. U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, must have at least known of the plot, but Trump has equivocated over who was to blame.

‘Tell your boss’: Recording is seen to link Saudi Crown Prince more strongly to Khashoggi killing‘Tell your boss’: Recording is seen to link Saudi Crown Prince more strongly to Khashoggi killing

Khashoggi, who lived in the U.S. and wrote for The Washington Post, was publicly critical of the Saudi crown prince. He was killed in what U.S. officials have described as an elaborate plot at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, which he had visited for marriage paperwork.

Echoing Trump’s public comments on the killing, Pompeo said after Wednesday’s briefing with senators that there was “no direct reporting” connecting the crown prince to the murder, and Mattis said there was “no smoking gun” making the connection.

Pompeo argued that the war in Yemen would be “a hell of a lot worse” if the United States were not involved.

Wednesday’s procedural vote sets up a floor debate on the resolution next week. It would be largely a symbolic move, however, as House Republican leaders have given no indication they would take up the war powers measure before the end of the year – the end of the current Congress.

Several senators said they were angry about the absence of CIA Director Gina Haspel from the pre-vote briefing.

New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, speculated that Haspel didn’t attend because she “would have said with a high degree of confidence that the crown prince of Saudi Arabia was involved in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.”

And Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who is often strongly allied with Trump, voted to move forward with the resolution and said he would insist on a briefing from Haspel. He even threatened to withhold his vote on key measures if that didn’t happen and declared, “I’m not going to blow past this.”

IN PHOTOS: Saudis initially planned to kill Khashoggi in countryside villa, not consulate: Report

Saudis initially planned to kill Khashoggi in countryside villa, not consulate: Report

CIA press secretary Timothy Barrett said that no one kept Haspel away from the briefing. He said the CIA had already briefed the Senate intelligence committee and Senate leaders and “will continue to provide updates on this important matter to policymakers and Congress.”

In another explanation, a White House official said Haspel decided not to participate in part because of frustration with lawmakers leaking classified intelligence from such settings. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters.

The procedural vote received more Republican support than had been expected after the resolution, sponsored by Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, fell six votes short of passage earlier this year.

Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said in the past he had “laid in the railroad tracks to keep us from doing things that I believe are against our national interest as it relates to Saudi Arabia.” But he said he believes the Senate should “figure out some way for us to send the appropriate message to Saudi Arabia that appropriately displays American values and American national interests.”

He said the crown prince “owns this death. He owns it.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., voted against moving ahead with the resolution but said a day earlier that “some kind of response” was needed from the United States for the Saudis’ role in Khashoggi’s death. On Tuesday, he said that “what obviously happened, as basically certified by the CIA, is completely abhorrent to everything the United States holds dear and stands for in the world.”

Pompeo said U.S. involvement in the Yemen conflict is central to the Trump administration’s broader goal of containing Iranian influence in the Middle East. His language was blunt in a Wall Street Journal article, writing that Khashoggi’s murder “has heightened the Capitol Hill caterwauling and media pile-on. But degrading U.S.-Saudi ties would be a grave mistake for the national security of the U.S. and its allies.”

Trump has said it may never be known who was responsible for the killing, and in public comments – and a long and unusual statement last week – he reinforced the United States’ long-standing alliance with the Saudis. Trump has praised a pending arms deal with the kingdom that he says will provide the U.S. with jobs and lucrative payments, though some outside assessments say the economic benefits are exaggerated.

Washington - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is warning senators that U.S. national security interests are at stake as they consider a vote to halt U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

In prepared remarks released ahead of a closed-door Senate briefing on Wednesday, Pompeo says diplomatic efforts to end the conflict are ongoing and argues that without U.S. involvement in Yemen, civilian casualties there would be much worse.

“The suffering in Yemen grieves me, but if the United States of America was not involved in Yemen, it would be a hell of a lot worse,” Pompeo said.

It’s unclear if that message will be enough for senators, who have grown increasingly uneasy with the U.S. response to Saudi Arabia after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The briefing with Pompeo and Defense Secretary James Mattis could determine how far Congress goes in punishing the longtime Middle East ally.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says “some kind of response” is needed from the United States for the Saudis’ role in the gruesome death. While U.S. intelligence officials have concluded the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, must have at least known of the plot, the CIA’s findings have not been made public and President Donald Trump has equivocated over who is to blame.

McConnell said on Tuesday that “what obviously happened, as basically certified by the CIA, is completely abhorrent to everything the United States holds dear and stands for in the world. We’re discussing what the appropriate response would be.”

The resolution needs just a simple majority to advance, but a vote is not

Washington DC (Courtesy photo - education only)

Washington DC (Courtesy photo – education only)

certain this week. It could launch a process for amending the bill that could play out for days in the Senate. It could end up being a largely symbolic move as House Republican leaders have given no indication they would take up the war powers measure before the end of the year.

Pompeo says U.S. involvement in the Yemen conflict is central to the Trump administration’s broader goal of containing Iranian influence in the Middle East.

“The first mission is to assist the Saudis and the Emiratis in their fight against Iranian-backed Houthi fighters. This conflict isn’t optional for Saudi Arabia, and abandoning it puts American interests at risk, too,” he says according to the prepared remarks.

Much will depend on what senators hear from Mattis and Pompeo. Administration officials were able to stall a Senate effort earlier this year against the Saudi-backed conflict in Yemen, when the resolution from Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Mike Lee, R-Utah, fell just six votes short of passage. It drew a mix of Democrats and Republicans who have grown uneasy with U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led campaign against the Houthis in a war that human rights advocates say is subjecting civilians to indiscriminate bombing and wreaking havoc on the country.

Mike Pompeo US Secretary of State (US gov. official photo for education only)

Mike Pompeo US Secretary of State (US gov. official photo for education only)

That was long before the October 2 death of Khashoggi, the U.S.-educated journalist who was publicly critical of the Saudi crown prince. Senators are increasingly frustrated over the administration’s response to that killing and are particularly upset that no one from the intelligence community is attending Wednesday’s briefing.

Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, one of 10 Democrats who declined to join the earlier effort against the Saudis, said Tuesday he was reconsidering his position.

“Things changed,” Manchin said. “The whole thing with Khashoggi is very much concerning. It’s not who we are as a country. It’s not who we should have as allies and not condemn that.”

The top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, will likely be in favor of the Yemen resolution, and another key member of the panel, Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said he was “inclined” to support it now if it came up for a vote.

Senators are getting hammered by outside groups running ads and lobbying them for action.

“What I would argue to the administration is that somehow or another there’s got to be a price to pay for what has happened,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the chairman of the committee.

“My sense is, unless something happens — where they share what it is they’re going to do to deal with this injustice that has occurred — my sense is that people are going to vote to get on the bill.”

Khashoggi was killed in what U.S. officials have described as an elaborate plot at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, which he had visited for marriage paperwork.

Trump has said it may never be known who was responsible for the killing,

Jamal-Khashoggi (left in the frame) and Saudi Crown-Prince Bin Salman (Courtesy photo for education only)

Jamal-Khashoggi (left in the frame) and Saudi Crown-Prince Bin Salman (Courtesy photo for education only)

and in public comments — and a long and unusual statement last week — he reinforced the United States’ long-standing alliance with the Saudis. Trump has praised a pending arms deal with the kingdom that he says will provide the U.S. with jobs and lucrative payments, though some outside assessments say the economic benefits are exaggerated.

Several GOP senators, including key allies Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Rand Paul of Kentucky, have publicly questioned Trump’s handling of the situation. Paul is trying to block the arms sale.

“If you don’t draw the line here, where do you draw the line?” Graham asked reporters Tuesday. He, too, supports blocking the arms sale and said giving the crown prince “a pass on murdering a critic doesn’t make the world a safer place.” (Source VOA News and Hurriyet/AP)

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