GOP senators say Saudi crown prince complicit 'to the highest level possible' in Khashoggi murder

Key GOP senators left a briefing with CIA Director Gina Haspel convinced that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the brutal killing of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in early October.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerGOP lawmaker patience runs thin with Trump tactics Former GOP senator: Republicans cannot let Trump's 'reckless' post-election claims stand Cornyn: Relationships with Trump like 'women who get married and think they're going to change their spouse' MORE (R-Tenn.) told reporters that if the crown prince were to go before a jury “he’d be convicted in 30 minutes.”

"Crown Prince MBS ordered the killing, monitored the killing, knew exactly what was happening, planned it in advance,” Corker said after participating in a closed-door meeting with Haspel and other top-ranking senators, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate approves two energy regulators, completing panel On The Money: Biden announces key members of economic team | GOP open to Yellen as Treasury secretary, opposed to budget pick | GAO: Labor Department 'improperly presented' jobless data Senate GOP open to confirming Yellen to be Biden's Treasury secretary MORE (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerOvernight Health Care: Moderna to apply for emergency use authorization for COVID-19 vaccine candidate | Hospitals brace for COVID-19 surge | US more than doubles highest number of monthly COVID-19 cases The five biggest challenges facing President-elect Biden Collins urges voters to turn out in Georgia runoffs MORE (D-N.Y.).

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham: Trump should attend Biden inauguration 'if' Biden wins Biden budget pick sparks battle with GOP Senate Georgia governor rejects Trump's call to 'overrule' elections officials with emergency powers MORE (R-S.C.) called the crown prince a “wrecking ball” who is “complicit in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi to the highest level possible.”

“There's not a smoking gun, there's a smoking saw. … 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, contradicting Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisBiden under pressure to remove Trump transgender military ban quickly Progressive House Democrats urge Biden against Defense chief with contractor ties Trump fires Defense chief Mark Esper MORE, who told reporters last week that there was “no smoking gun” connecting Crown Prince Mohammed to the killing.

"I would really question somebody's judgment if they couldn't figure this out — it is there to be figured out,” Graham added.

Haspel briefed the select group of senators after Graham threatened to hold up Senate business, including a must-pass funding bill, until the CIA director shared intelligence on the crown prince’s role in the killing.

The Senate is set to take up later this week or early next week a measure that would end U.S. involvement in Saudi Arabia’s military operations in Yemen's civil war. Members have also floated additional sanctions on those believed to be behind Khashoggi’s killing.

The question is how to punish the crown prince without hurting the country, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyThis week: Congress races to wrap work for the year Incoming Congress looks more like America Congress set for chaotic year-end sprint MORE (R-Ala.) said.

"Somebody should be punished. Now the question is, how do you separate the Saudi crown prince and his group from the nation itself? That might be the real policy,” Shelby said as he left the briefing.

Corker said that some in the Senate want to address the “killing of the journalist” while others "want to speak to the Yemen issue at large, trying to pool that together in a manner that's unified in Congress is difficult.”

“It would be really easy for the president to walk out into the press room today and just state that MBS killed a journalist, we know we killed a journalist, we know he ordered it, we know that he monitored it — these all people that are very close to him. And that is not acceptable for American standards,” Corker added.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpGeraldo Rivera on Trump sowing election result doubts: 'Enough is enough now' Murkowski: Trump should concede White House race Scott Atlas resigns as coronavirus adviser to Trump MORE has repeatedly refused to blame Crown Prince Mohammed directly for the slaying, saying “we may never know” who was responsible.

"If we abandon Saudi Arabia, it would be a terrible mistake," he told reporters last month.

"Right now, we have oil prices in great shape. I'm not going to destroy the world economy and I'm not going to destroy the economy for our country by being foolish with Saudi Arabia."

For his part, Graham plans to introduce a statement officially implicating the crown prince in the death, coupled with sanctions set forth in the Magnitsky Act — a measure he introduced with Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezDemocrats urge YouTube to remove election misinformation, step up efforts ahead of Georgia runoff Democratic senators urge Facebook to take action on anti-Muslim bigotry Trump appointee sparks bipartisan furor for politicizing media agency MORE (D-N.J.)

"I will try to work my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, to send a statement before the end of this Congress, that in fact the crown prince was complicit in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi, that during his tenure as crown prince he's put in the region in chaos and has undercut the relationship and I cannot support arms sales to Saudi Arabia as long as he is going to be in charge of this country. The war in Yemen has gotten out of control, the brutality of this murder is beyond my sharing it with you,” Graham said.

— Molly K. Hooper