Graham: Saudi’s findings on slain journalist not 'credible'

GOP Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Argentum - All eyes on Florida as daily COVID-19 cases hit 15K Democrats see immigration reform as topping Biden agenda Graham says he will call Mueller to testify before Senate panel about Russia probe MORE (S.C.) said Friday night that he was not convinced by Saudi Arabia’s findings on the death of a U.S.–based journalist, saying it was an “understatement” to say he was skeptical.

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“To say that I am skeptical of the new Saudi narrative about Mr. [Jamal] Khashoggi is an understatement,” Graham said in a string of tweets.

He added that it was hard to believe the findings, released by the Saudi government’s official press agency, were “credible.”

“It’s hard to find this latest ‘explanation’ as credible,” Graham said.

Saudi Arabia said Friday that Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi, who had been missing for more than two weeks after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, is dead. 

The Saudi government said that 18 Saudi nationals have been arrested and are being interrogated in connection with the case.

The findings from Saudi Arabia come after days of speculation that the Saudi government was trying to formulate a response amid intense international backlash.

CNN initially reported Monday that the Saudi government was preparing a report that would acknowledge Khashoggi’s death but without implicating the royal family.

The Saudi government initially said Khashoggi left the consulate shortly after he arrived to get paperwork needed for his marriage, but they did not provide evidence to support that claim. 

Turkish officials have claimed they have audio recordings that prove Khashoggi was brutally murdered inside the consulate and told The New York Times that Khashoggi was beheaded, dismembered and had his fingers severed. Turkey hasn’t yet released the audio.

But Graham pointed to the shifting responses from the Saudi government as one reason he remains skeptical that Khashoggi was killed in a “fight.” 

“First we were told Mr. Khashoggi supposedly left the consulate and there was blanket denial of any Saudi involvement. Now, a fight breaks out and he’s killed in the consulate, all without knowledge of Crown Prince,” he said. 

Graham has typically been a supporter of Saudi Arabia in the Senate but said earlier this week that he wanted to “sanction the hell” out of the country.

His reaction comes as Congress, including several Republican members, have urged Trump to punish the Saudi government if they are found to be involved in Khashoggi’s murder. 

Other lawmakers are likely to be skeptical of Saudi Arabia’s findings. Though Congress hasn’t blocked arms sales, there is broad bipartisan frustration with the country stemming from the government’s involvement in the Yemen civil war.

Democrats immediately pounced on the Saudi findings.

Sen. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzCensus workers prepare to go door-knocking in pandemic Data shows seven Senate Democrats have majority non-white staffs Overnight Defense: Lawmakers demand answers on reported Russian bounties for US troops deaths in Afghanistan | Defense bill amendments target Germany withdrawal, Pentagon program giving weapons to police MORE (D-Hawaii) said Congress should block the next arms sale. There isn’t currently a sale to Saudi Arabia pending, but lawmakers have 30 days once they are notified to prevent a sale. 

Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyHillicon Valley: QAnon scores wins, creating GOP problem | Supreme Court upholds regulation banning robocalls to cellphones | Foreign hackers take aim at homebound Americans | Uber acquires Postmates QAnon scores wins, creating GOP problem Democratic senator will introduce bill mandating social distancing on flights after flying on packed plane MORE (D-Ore.) added that the findings didn’t “hold water.”

“This story doesn’t hold water. The US govt needs to demand the truth and hold the responsible parties accountable, not go along with Saudi efforts to cover up this murder,” he said in a tweet.

-- Updated 8:05 p.m.