Senators claim Saudi crown prince 'complicit in Khashoggi' murder after CIA briefing: 'Not a smoking gun, but a smoking saw'

Only 'willfully blind' could belive powerful prince not behind killing, says Lindsey Graham

Republican senator Lindsey Graham says Saudi Crown Prince complicit in murder of Jamal Khashoggi 'to the highest level possible'

Top senators have claimed that the Saudi crown prince was “complicit” in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi after being briefed by the head of the CIA, a conclusion at odds with that of Donald Trump.

After emerging from a private meeting with CIA Director Gina Haspel, Lindsey Graham said a person would have to be “willfully blind not to come to the conclusion this was orchestrated and organised by people under the command of [Crown Prince] Mohammad bin Salman” – often referred to as MBS.

Referring to a briefing last week from Trump administration officials, which reiterated the importance of Washington’s relationship with Riyadh, Mr Graham’s anger was clear.

“I have great respect for [secretary of state Mike] Pompeo and [defence secretary James] Mattis, but if it were in a Democratic administration, I would be all over them for being in the pocket of Saudi Arabia,” he said. “There’s not a smoking gun, there’s a smoking saw.”

Mr Trump has repeatedly sought to defend the powerful crown prince, denying reports the CIA had concluded he was behind October’s killing of the 59-year-old journalist at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and refusing to entertain the idea of cancelling millions of dollars of weapons deals with the kingdom. Saudi Arabia has repeatedly denied any involvement in the killing by Crown Prince Mohammad.

Last month, the president issued a statement saying the US would remain a steadfast ally of Saudi Arabia, even though the prince “may or may not” have been behind the killing that has triggered global outrage.

“I’m not going to tell a country ... That has helped me keep oil prices down ... I’m not going to destroy our economy by being foolish with Saudi Arabia,” Mr Trump said as he left the White House to spend the Thanksgiving Day holiday in Florida.

Asked about reports the CIA had found the prince was involved in the killing of the journalist who had been critical of the 33-year-old royal, he said: “They did not make that assessment. They had nothing definitive.”

He added: “We are staying with Saudi Arabia, and by the way, I have no business with Saudi Arabia. I couldn’t care less. This is about America first.”

Saudi Arabia has also denied the crown prince’s involvement. Last month, the nation’s public prosecutor charged 11 people over the murder, and seeking the death penalty for five of them. The Saudi public prosecutor has blamed a “rogue” operation aimed at bringing Mr Khashoggi back to the Riyadh for the killing. Investigations are continuing into another 10.

The US Treasury Department has sanctioned 17 Saudi’s who they say “targeted” Mr Khashoggi. On Tuesday, senator Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the foreign relations committee and who has called for a strong response to the killing of Mr Khashoggi and supports ending US support for Saudi Arabia’s bombing of Yemen, said his views had only solidified after attending the briefing on Capitol Hill.

Hillary Clinton says Trump is ‘part of the coverup’ in Khashoggi killing during speaking tour

Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the committee, shook his head to say “no”, when asked if he thought Ms Haspel’s briefing had changed any minds.

“I have zero question in my mind that the Crown Prince MBS ordered the killing, monitored the killing, knew exactly what was happening,” said Mr Corker. “Planned it in advanced. If he was in front of a jury he would be convicted in 30 minutes. Guilty.”

Mr Corker, from Tennessee, called the Trump administration’s claim that there is no direct evidence of the crown prince’s involvement “unacceptable”.

Mr Graham of South Carolina, had perhaps the strongest language. He said the crown prince was “a wrecking ball. I think he is complicit in the murder of Khashoggi in the highest possible level”.

The death of the journalist, who was killed by a 15-strong hit squad and had his body dismembered and removed from the consulate, has become a major headache for the White House, because of its decision to go against the repeated conclusion of its own intelligence officials.

Washington’s foreign policy establishment has long been sympathetic to Saudi Arabia because of its energy supplies and strategic value as a partner in the Middle East. The crown prince was presented as a moderniser, and last year toured the US, to meet with influencers who included everyone from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, to Oprah Winfrey.

But the killing of the journalist, as he was trying to obtain a visa to get married, set off widespread outrage. Even those who often overlooked Saudi Arabia’s appalling record on human rights, believed it marks a step too far if there is royal involvement.

The killing came as public opinion was already moving against Saudi Arabia because of the massive humanitarian disaster triggered by its bombing of Houthi rebels in Yemen, a military operation that has been supported by both the US and the UK. It the US, some senators are pushing to end support for the operation, that has led to starvation and an outbreak of cholera.

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