Saudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP

The mysterious disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Turkey is driving a wedge between President TrumpDonald John TrumpJulián Castro: It's time for House Democrats to 'do something' about Trump Warren: Congress is 'complicit' with Trump 'by failing to act' Sanders to join teachers, auto workers striking in Midwest MORE and Republican members of Congress, who are pressing for an aggressive U.S. response if Saudi Arabia is found responsible for the suspected killing. 

Trump on Tuesday said Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman had denied any knowledge of Khashoggi’s fate, a statement that for the second day in a row sent the signal that the president is comfortable with the Saudi government’s explanations so far. 

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“Just spoke with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia who totally denied any knowledge of what took place in their Turkish Consulate,” Trump wrote on Twitter. He added that the crown prince had told Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoClarence Thomas, Joe Manchin, Rudy Giuliani among guests at second state visit under Trump Senate Judiciary Committee requests consultation with admin on refugee admissions State Department's top arms control official leaving MORE that his government would rapidly expand an investigation and that answers would be “forthcoming.”

Later, Trump said in an interview with The Associated Press that blaming Saudi Arabia for Khashoggi’s disappearance is another example of “guilty until proven innocent,” an allusion to sexual misconduct allegations made last month against Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughTrump decries whistleblower story as 'another media disaster' The Hill's Morning Report — Trump's new controversy Trump judicial picks face rare GOP opposition MORE.

On Monday, following a conversation with Saudi King Salman, Trump said that “rogue killers” could have killed Khashoggi. Not long after the president spoke, published reports said the Saudi government was preparing to say that Khashoggi was killed as part of a botched interrogation. 

Khashoggi was seen entering the Saudi consulate on Oct. 2 but was never seen leaving. His fiancée waited for hours for him to exit the building. 

The Saudi government has given little explanation of how Khashoggi might have left the consulate even as Turkish officials have pointed the finger at Riyadh. Leaks from the Turkish government indicate that Khashoggi, who contributed opinion pieces to The Washington Post and lived in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., was killed and dismembered at the consulate.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate Judiciary Committee requests consultation with admin on refugee admissions Trump reignites court fight with Ninth Circuit pick Trump judicial picks face rare GOP opposition MORE (R-S.C.), one of the president’s closest allies on Capitol Hill, threatened to “sanction the hell out of Saudi Arabia” in a Tuesday interview on Fox, adding that he was “personally offended” by Khashoggi’s disappearance. Graham said the crown prince had “tainted” his country and himself and had to go. 

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioLiberal super PAC launches browser extension replacing 'Mitch McConnell' with 'Moscow Mitch' Trump faces difficult balancing act with reelection campaign Republicans wary of US action on Iran MORE (R-Fla.), a prominent member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on Tuesday said Congress would act independently of the administration if necessary. 

“The Senate, the Congress, I believe will act in a bipartisan way and this is going to alter the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia for the foreseeable future,” Rubio told CNN in an interview. 

Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinSenate confirms two Treasury nominees over Democratic objections Congress passes bill to begin scenic byways renaissance GOP lawmaker: 'Dangerous' abuse of Interpol by Russia, China, Venezuela MORE (Md.), a senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, backed up that prediction. 

“There’s going to be consequences and we’re going to take action. We’re an independent branch of government. We’ve shown that before with our relationship with Russia, we’ve shown it with North Korea, and we’ll show it here with Saudi Arabia,” Cardin said on CNN. 

There were also calls from Republican Sens. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFlake donates to Democratic sheriff being challenged by Arpaio in Arizona The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says US-China trade talks to resume, hails potential trade with Japan, UK Joe Arpaio to run for Maricopa County sheriff in 2020  MORE (Ariz.), Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungSenators pressure Trump to help end humanitarian crisis in Kashmir Congress set for chaotic fall sprint Overnight Defense: Senate fails to override Trump veto on Saudi arms sales | Two US troops killed in Afghanistan | Senators tee up nominations, budget deal ahead of recess MORE (Ind.) and Rubio for Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinOvernight Defense: Trump hits Iranian central bank with sanctions | Trump meeting with Ukrainian leader at UN | Trump touts relationship with North Korea's Kim as 'best thing' for US Trump says he's sanctioning Iran's national bank Lawmakers run into major speed bumps on spending bills MORE to cancel a planned trip for the “Davos in the desert” financial summit that Saudi Arabia is set to host next week. 

Young criticized what he called “a pattern of reckless behavior” by the crown prince.

At the same time, Republicans did not criticize the administration’s response to the controversy. Graham said that whatever happens next is “up to the president.”

GOP leaders in Congress have offered support for Trump.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Energy: California, 23 other states sue Trump over vehicle emissions rule | Climate strike protests hit cities across globe | Interior watchdog expands scope of FOIA investigation | Dems accuse officials of burying climate reports Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers say Zuckerberg to 'cooperate' on antitrust probes | Dems see victory after McConnell backs election security funds | Twitter takes down fake pro-Saudi accounts Liberal super PAC launches browser extension replacing 'Mitch McConnell' with 'Moscow Mitch' MORE (R-Ky.) praised Trump for tasking Pompeo with trying to sort out some of the details.

“I think it’s good the president sent the secretary of State out to talk to the king. We need to find out first what happened before deciding what kind of response is appropriate,” he told Bloomberg News in an interview.  

A spokesperson for Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanDemocrats hit Scalia over LGBTQ rights Three-way clash set to dominate Democratic debate Krystal Ball touts Sanders odds in Texas MORE (R-Wis.) had no immediate comment on Pompeo’s meetings or whether the House might take up sanctions against Saudi Arabia. At an event last week, Ryan called the disappearance of Khashoggi “disturbing” and said both the Saudis and Turks needed to provide the facts of what happened to him.

Trump’s first foreign trip as president was to Saudi Arabia, and he has pinned much of his foreign policy approach in the Middle East on strengthening U.S. ties to Riyadh while isolating Iran.

Over the weekend, Trump defended a pending arms deal with Saudi Arabia, which he values at $110 billion, as something that should still go forward and would be good for the U.S. economy. 

On Tuesday, he described news reports about his business ties to Saudi Arabia as “fake news.” 

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerTrump announces, endorses ambassador to Japan's Tennessee Senate bid Meet the key Senate player in GOP fight over Saudi Arabia Trump says he's 'very happy' some GOP senators have 'gone on to greener pastures' MORE (R-Tenn.) last week joined members on his panel in a letter to Trump triggering the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which requires the president to investigate whether a foreign person is responsible for an illegal killing or torture and report back to Congress within 120 days. 

If Saudi officials are found to have grossly violated Khashoggi’s human rights, the Magnitsky Act would pave the way for the administration to implement sanctions against those individuals.  

The letter was also signed by Graham and Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyHillicon Valley: Zuckerberg courts critics on Capitol Hill | Amazon makes climate pledge | Senate panel approves 0M for state election security Senate committee approves 0 million for state election security efforts Senate panel approves three spending bills MORE (Vt.), the chairman and top-ranking Democrat on the State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Subcommittee. 

Reps. Ed RoyceEdward (Ed) Randall RoyceMystery surrounds elusive sanctions on Russia Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers struggle to understand Facebook's Libra project | EU hits Amazon with antitrust probe | New cybersecurity concerns over census | Robocall, election security bills head to House floor | Privacy questions over FaceApp House panel advances bill to protect elections from foreign interference MORE (R-Calif.) and Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelHouse chairman reaches deal on classified briefing with Trump's Afghanistan negotiator Overnight Defense: Dems grill Trump Army, Air Force picks | House chair subpoenas Trump Afghanistan negotiator | Trump officials release military aid to Ukraine House chairman subpoenas Trump's Afghanistan negotiator MORE (D-N.Y.), the chairman and top-ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, sent a letter to Trump on Friday expressing support for the Senate’s action. 

A Senate Democratic aide said if the administration ignored Magnitsky Act requirements, “there are legislative venues for us to mandate that they implement sanctions.” The aide said the first round of sanctions would likely target individuals. 

Senators are also expected to force votes on blocking arms sales to Saudi Arabia or distancing the United States from the war in Yemen as soon as next month.

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders to join teachers, auto workers striking in Midwest Krystal Ball tears into 'Never Trump' Republicans 2020 Democrats defend climate priorities in MSNBC forum MORE (I-Vt.), who has been critical of Saudi Arabia for years, said he will try to get a vote once the Senate returns from recess on a resolution that would end U.S. support for the war in Yemen, bolster congressional oversight of military authorizations and “show the Saudis that they do not have a blank check to continue human rights violations.”

Sens. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulOn The Money: House votes to avert shutdown, fund government through November | Judge blocks California law requiring Trump tax returns | Senate panel approves three spending bills Paul objection snags confirmation of former McConnell staffer Defense bill talks set to start amid wall fight MORE (R-Ky.) and Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyDemocrats hit Scalia over LGBTQ rights GOP signals unease with Barr's gun plan Trump administration floats background check proposal to Senate GOP MORE (D-Conn.) have said they will try to block the next arms sale to Saudi Arabia. There isn’t a sale currently pending before Congress, but lawmakers have 30 days once they’ve been notified by the administration to try to block a sale. 

Paul, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, however, did not sign the letter to Trump triggering the Magnitsky Act.

The Senate has rejected multiple attempts in recent years to prevent arms sales to Saudi Arabia or cut off U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s efforts in Yemen, despite long-simmering frustration in Congress. 

The last attempt, in March, to end the U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s bombing operations in Yemen narrowly failed and a June 2017 effort to block part of the $110 billion U.S.-Saudi arms deal fell short by four votes. 

But several Republican senators who voted against the 2017 resolution have said pausing arms sales to Saudi Arabia should be discussed in the aftermath of Khashoggi’s disappearance.