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 TrumpPentagon update to missile defense doctrine will explore space-base technologies, lasers to counter threats Giuliani: 'I never said there was no collusion' between the Trump campaign and Russia Former congressmen, RNC members appointed to Trump administration roles 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. 

ADVERTISEMENT

“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 PompeoTop North Korean official to meet with Trump this week: report The Hill's 12:30 Report: Pelosi asks Trump to postpone State of the Union | US troops killed in Syria blast | Day 2 of Barr confirmation US calls China's death sentence for Canadian man 'politically motivated' 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 Kavanaugh5 takeaways from Barr’s testimony MSNBC anchor speculates Trump has something 'pretty extreme' on Graham Five things to watch during Barr’s confirmation hearing 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 GrahamCentrist efforts to convince Trump to end shutdown falter Overnight Defense: Four Americans killed in Syria suicide attack | State of the Union becomes latest shutdown flashpoint | Missile defense review on track for Thursday release White House condemns 'terror attack' that killed US troops in Syria 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 RubioTrump tells GOP senators he’s sticking to Syria and Afghanistan pullout  On The Money: Shutdown Day 26 | Pelosi calls on Trump to delay State of the Union | Cites 'security concerns' | DHS chief says they can handle security | Waters lays out agenda | Senate rejects effort to block Trump on Russia sanctions Senate rejects effort to block Trump on Russia sanctions 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 CardinGOP senators would support postponing State of the Union Bipartisan group of senators will urge Trump to reopen government for 3 weeks Dems blast EPA nominee at confirmation hearing 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 FlakeThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump eyes wall money options as shutdown hits 21 days Poll: Sanders most popular senator, Flake least CBS News in talks to hire Flake: report MORE (Ariz.), Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungGOP senators propose bill to pay 'excepted' workers during shutdown Trump's military moves accelerate GOP search for next McCain Kevin McLaughlin tapped to serve as NRSC executive director for 2020 MORE (Ind.) and Rubio for Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinIRS waiving penalty for some in first filing season under Trump's tax law Senate rejects effort to block Trump on Russia sanctions MIT removed Russian oligarch from board following sanctions from Treasury Department 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 McConnellOcasio-Cortez rips Trump in first House floor speech: 'It is not normal to shut down the government when we don’t get what we want' Overnight Health Care: Dem chair plans hearing on Medicare for all | Senate GOP talks drug prices with Trump health chief | PhRMA CEO hopeful Trump reverses course on controversial pricing proposal Supporters leave notes on plaque outside Ocasio-Cortez's office 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 RyanHouse vote fails to quell storm surrounding Steve King House passes resolution condemning white nationalism Anti-Defamation League calls on House leaders to censure Steve King over white supremacy comments 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 CorkerThe Memo: Romney moves stir worries in Trump World Senate GOP names first female members to Judiciary panel Former US special envoy to anti-ISIS coalition joins Stanford University as lecturer 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 LeahyGOP insiders knock their depictions in new Dick Cheney biopic ‘Vice’ Barr: It would be a crime for president to pardon someone in exchange for their silence Barr says Trump won't be allowed to 'correct' Mueller report MORE (Vt.), the chairman and top-ranking Democrat on the State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Subcommittee. 

Reps. Ed RoyceEdward (Ed) Randall RoyceBottom Line Exiting lawmakers jockey for K Street perch House passes resolution calling for release of Reuters journalists jailed in Myanmar MORE (R-Calif.) and Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelOvernight Defense: Trump rejects Graham call to end shutdown | Coast Guard on track to miss Tuesday paychecks | Dems eye Trump, Russia probes | Trump talks with Erdogan after making threat to Turkey's economy Dems zero in on Trump and Russia Top Dem: Congress may have 'no choice' but to subpoena Trump interpreter 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 SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersTexas man indicted over allegations he created fraudulent campaign PACs Overnight Energy: Wheeler weathers climate criticism at confirmation hearing | Dems want Interior to stop drilling work during shutdown | 2018 was hottest year for oceans Dems offer measure to raise minimum wage to per hour 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 PaulTrump tells GOP senators he’s sticking to Syria and Afghanistan pullout  Congress can stop the war on science Media fails spectacularly at smearing Rand Paul for surgery in Canada MORE (R-Ky.) and Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyCardi B expresses solidarity with federal workers not getting paid Some Senate Dems see Ocasio-Cortez as weak spokeswoman for party Dem senator jokes about holding drinking game for Trump's primetime address 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.