Corker mocks White House as 'public relations firm' for Saudi crown prince

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerTennessee primary battle turns nasty for Republicans Cheney clashes with Trump Sessions-Tuberville Senate runoff heats up in Alabama MORE (R-Tenn.) on Tuesday criticized the White House for acting like a “public relations firm” for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after President TrumpDonald John TrumpDeWine tests negative for coronavirus a second time Several GOP lawmakers express concern over Trump executive orders Beirut aftermath poses test for US aid to frustrating ally MORE issued a statement defending U.S.-Saudi relations.

“I never thought I’d see the day a White House would moonlight as a public relations firm for the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia,” Corker wrote in a retweet of Trump’s statement questioning whether the crown prince was responsible for the death of U.S.-based dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. 

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Corker, who is set to retire as chairman of the Foreign Relations panel at the end of the year, recently criticized the White House for not sharing intelligence about the details of Khashoggi’s murder. He was killed last month by a team of Saudi agents after entering the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul. 

The CIA recently concluded that Crown Prince Mohammed was involved in the plan to kill Khashoggi based on an intercepted phone call and other evidence, according to multiple reports. 

Trump, however, on Tuesday noted that King Salman and the crown prince have vigorously denied any knowledge of the planning or execution of Khashoggi's murder. 

“Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” Trump said in his statement.

Corker was the third prominent Senate Republican to criticize Trump’s statement on Tuesday. 

He called earlier this month for sanctions against Saudi Arabia that went beyond the punishments the Trump administration has leveled against the 17 Saudi agents found to be directly involved in Khashoggi’s murder.

Corker praised those individual sanctions as “a significant step in that process that hopefully will involve additional action as well.”

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSeveral GOP lawmakers express concern over Trump executive orders Graham says he appreciates Trump orders, but 'would much prefer a congressional agreement' Sunday shows preview: White House, congressional Democrats unable to breach stalemate over coronavirus relief MORE (R-S.C.), the chairman of the Senate’s Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs, earlier on Tuesday issued a statement warning Trump not to look past Saudi Arabia’s behavior. 

“It is not in our national security interests to look the other way when it comes to the brutal murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi,” Graham said in a statement released late Tuesday afternoon. 

Graham argued Tuesday that the Senate should act by voting on sanctions legislation.  

“I firmly believe there will be strong bipartisan support for serious sanctions against Saudi Arabia, including appropriate members of the royal family, for this barbaric act which defied all civilized norms,” he said in his statement. 

“While Saudi Arabia is a strategic ally, the behavior of the Crown Prince — in multiple ways — has shown disrespect for the relationship and made him, in my view, beyond toxic,” he added. 

Graham is one of several Republican co-sponsors of the Saudi Arabia Accountability and Yemen Act, which would suspend weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, prohibit U.S. planes from refueling Saudi coalition aircraft involved in the civil war in Yemen, and require a report on human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia. 

The other GOP co-sponsors are Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCoronavirus deal key to Republicans protecting Senate majority From a Republican donor to Senate GOP: Remove marriage penalty or risk alienating voters The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump's visit to battleground Ohio overshadowed by coronavirus MORE (R-Maine) and Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungRepublicans dismiss Trump proposal to delay election Senate GOP posts M quarter haul as candidates, Trump struggle A renewed emphasis on research and development funding is needed from the government MORE (R-Ind.), members of the Foreign Relations Committee. 

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulTrump-backed Hagerty wins Tennessee GOP Senate primary Senators introduce bill to block Trump armed drone sale measure The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump's visit to battleground Ohio overshadowed by coronavirus MORE (R-Ky.), another member of the Foreign Relations Committee, earlier on Tuesday criticized Trump’s statement as promoting a “Saudi Arabia First” policy instead of an “America First” doctrine, as the president claimed. 

Paul has called for a vote on legislation blocking an arms sale to Saudi Arabia that Trump has valued at $110 billion.