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 TrumpPapadopoulos on AG's new powers: 'Trump is now on the offense' Pelosi uses Trump to her advantage Mike Pence delivers West Point commencement address 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 PompeoVenezuelan government, opposition to meet in Norway for talks O'Rourke: Trump 'provoking' war with Iran by sending troops to Middle East Trump aide: North Korean missile tests violated UN resolutions 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 KavanaughMurkowski celebrates birthday with electric scooter ride Graham urges Trump not to abandon infrastructure talks with Democrats 2020 Dems break political taboos by endorsing litmus tests 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 GrahamTrump declassification move unnerves Democrats Climate change is a GOP issue, too New Yorker cover titled 'The Shining' shows Graham, McConnell, Barr polishing Trump's shoes 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 RubioFrustration boils over with Senate's 'legislative graveyard' Senate passes disaster aid bill after deal with Trump GOP senators work to get Trump on board with new disaster aid package 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 CardinHouse votes to boost retirement savings On The Money: GOP angst grows over Trump's trade war | Trump promises help for 'Patriot Farmers' | Markets rebound | CBO founding director Alice Rivlin dies | Senate to vote on disaster aid bill next week Senators offer bipartisan retirement savings bill 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 FlakeSen. Coons examines Amazon's privacy and data security practices for Alexa devices Oil companies join blitz for carbon tax The Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget MORE (Ariz.), Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungBipartisan senators unveil measure to end surprise medical bills Pence, McConnell eulogize Sen. Richard Lugar On The Money: GOP angst grows over Trump's trade war | Trump promises help for 'Patriot Farmers' | Markets rebound | CBO founding director Alice Rivlin dies | Senate to vote on disaster aid bill next week MORE (Ind.) and Rubio for Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinThe Hill's Morning Report — After contentious week, Trump heads for Japan Artist designs stamp to put Harriet Tubman's face over Jackson's on bills On The Money: Senate passes disaster aid bill after deal with Trump | Trump to offer B aid package for farmers | House votes to boost retirement savings | Study says new tariffs to double costs for consumers 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 McConnellThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump orders more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions What if 2020 election is disputed? Immigration bills move forward amid political upheaval 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 RyanAmash storm hits Capitol Hill Debate with Donald Trump? Just say no Ex-Trump adviser says GOP needs a better health-care message for 2020 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 CorkerJeff Daniels blasts 'cowardice' of Senate Republicans against Trump Corker: 'I just don't' see path to challenge Trump in 2020 Ex-GOP Sen. Corker: Trump primary would be 'good thing for our country' 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 LeahySenate passes disaster aid bill after deal with Trump GOP senators work to get Trump on board with new disaster aid package Chances for disaster aid deal slip amid immigration fight MORE (Vt.), the chairman and top-ranking Democrat on the State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Subcommittee. 

Reps. Ed RoyceEdward (Ed) Randall RoyceK Street giants scoop up coveted ex-lawmakers Former GOP chairman Royce joins lobbying shop Lawmakers propose banning shark fin trade MORE (R-Calif.) and Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Pelosi fires back in feud with Trump Tillerson told lawmakers Putin was more prepared than Trump for meeting: report Tillerson meets with House Foreign Affairs Committee 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 SandersJames Carville: Biden represents 'stability' not 'generational change' Ocasio-Cortez, progressives trash 'antisemitic' Politico illustration of Bernie Sanders 2020 Democrats target federal ban on abortion funding 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 PaulO'Rourke: Trump 'provoking' war with Iran by sending troops to Middle East Overnight Defense: 1,500 troops heading to Mideast to counter Iran | Trump cites Iran tensions to push through Saudi arms sale | Senate confirms Army, Navy chiefs before weeklong recess Trump to send 1,500 troops to Middle East to counter Iran MORE (R-Ky.) and Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyOvernight Defense: 1,500 troops heading to Mideast to counter Iran | Trump cites Iran tensions to push through Saudi arms sale | Senate confirms Army, Navy chiefs before weeklong recess Senators say Trump using loophole to push through Saudi arms sale Frustration boils over with Senate's 'legislative graveyard' 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.