Graham threatens to abstain from voting until CIA briefs Senate on Khashoggi killing

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Wednesday threatened to withhold any "key vote" until the CIA briefs the Senate on its assessment of whether Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

"Anything that you need me for to get out of town, I ain't doing it until we hear from the CIA," Graham told reporters after a briefing from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary James Mattis on U.S.-Saudi relations.

Mattis and Pompeo focused their efforts on trying to persuade senators to oppose a resolution coming up for a first vote Wednesday afternoon that would end U.S. military support for the Saudi-led coalition's military operations in Yemen in the wake of Khashoggi's death inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul last month.

Senators were hoping the briefing would involve CIA Director Gina Haspel, who previously 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 Crown Prince Mohammed ordered the murder of Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributor.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Wednesday that Pompeo and Mattis confirmed the White House prevented Haspel from attending the Senate briefing.

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." 

President Trump has pushed back on reports of the CIA's assessment, and Pompeo said Wednesday there is no "direct reporting" from U.S. intelligence connecting Crown Prince Mohammed to the kill order.

But senators remain skeptical that the operation could have been carried out without the approval of the crown prince, who is the kingdom's day-to-day leader.

Graham called Wednesday's briefing "inadequate" because it lacked a representative from the CIA.

"I'm not going to blow past this," he said. "So if that briefing is not given soon, it's going to be hard for me to vote for any spending bill."

Asked if he was only threatening to withhold votes on the spending bill, Graham said he was "talking about any key vote."

Further asked if he's made his stance clear to Trump, Graham said he "just did."

Congress has until Dec. 7 to pass a spending bill covering several government agencies and to avert a partial government shutdown.

One of the outstanding spending bills is for the State Department, and Graham chairs the Appropriations subcommittee responsible for that measure.

Negotiations on a spending bill have already been complicated by Trump's insistence that it include funding for his proposed wall on the southern border.

The Senate has also teed up confirmation votes on several federal judges, a key priority for Republicans. But that effort, too, has been complicated by Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who is withholding his votes until the Senate considers his bill to protect the special counsel's investigation into Russian election interference.

Updated at 3:41 p.m.