Durbin: Pompeo, Mattis said White House prevented Haspel from briefing on Saudi Arabia

Durbin: Pompeo, Mattis said White House prevented Haspel from briefing on Saudi Arabia
© Greg Nash

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard Pompeo'China will not sit idly by' if US sells fighters to Taiwan, official says The Hill's Morning Report - Trump touts new immigration policy, backtracks on tax cuts Iceland's prime minister will not be in town for Pence's visit MORE and Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOnly Donald Trump has a policy for Afghanistan New Pentagon report blames Trump troop withdrawal for ISIS surge in Iraq and Syria Mattis returns to board of General Dynamics MORE reportedly told senators Wednesday that it was the White House’s decision not to send CIA Director Gina Haspel to a Senate briefing on Saudi Arabia.

“We were told during this briefing that it was the direction of the White House that she not attend,” Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSenate Democrats push Trump to permanently shutter migrant detention facility House panel investigating decision to resume federal executions To combat domestic terrorism, Congress must equip law enforcement to fight rise in white supremacist attacks MORE (D-Ill.) told reporters after the briefing. “I cannot recall a briefing on such a sensitive nature where we have been denied access to the intelligence agencies of the United States.”

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Mattis and Pompeo briefed senators Wednesday on U.S.-Saudi relations ahead of a key vote later in the afternoon on a resolution that would end U.S. military support to a Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen’s civil war.

Senators are pushing the resolution in part to respond to the October slaying of U.S.-based journalist and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

The Trump administration is urging senators to stand down, arguing that ending U.S. support in Yemen would undercut efforts to improve Saudi behavior and jump start peace talks.

But senators were also hoping to hear from Haspel, who traveled to Turkey to review its evidence in the Khashoggi case, including an audio recording of his dying moments. The CIA has reportedly concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing, although Pompeo told senators the CIA has no direct evidence of that allegations.

Several senators emerged from the briefing disappointed they did not hear the U.S. intelligence assessment directly from Haspel.

But only Durbin said Pompeo and Mattis confirmed Haspel’s absence was a White House decision.

“We asked why Gina Haspel wasn’t there, and the two who were there said that was the decision of the White House,” Durbin said.

Speaking to reporters after the briefing, Pompeo would not answer questions about why Haspel was not there.

“I was asked to be here, and I’m here,” Pompeo said each time he was asked about Haspel. 

In a statement later Wednesday, the CIA denied Haspel was blocked from attending.

“While Director Haspel did not attend today’s Yemen policy briefing, the agency has already briefed the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and congressional leadership on the totality of the compartmented, classified intelligence and will continue to provide updates on this important matter to policymakers and Congress," CIA Press Secretary Timothy Barrett said. "The notion that anyone told Director Haspel not to attend today's briefing is false.” 

On Tuesday, national security adviser John Bolton similarly told reporters that the White House was “certainly not” blocking Haspel from attending.

Updated at 3:43 p.m.