GOP senators rip Saudi prince after briefing: 'There's a smoking saw'

Senators emerged from a briefing with CIA Director Gina Haspel blaming Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the death of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi and promising further action.

“There’s not a smoking gun, there’s a smoking saw,” Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamJaime Harrison seeks to convince Democrats he can take down Lindsey Graham Hillicon Valley: Senate panel advances bill targeting online child sexual abuse | Trump administration awards tech group contract to build 'virtual' wall | Advocacy groups urge Congress to ban facial recognition technologies Senate panel advances bill targeting online child sexual abuse MORE (R-S.C.) said, referencing Trump administration comments that there is no “smoking gun” linking the crown prince to the order to kill Khashoggi.

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“You have to be willfully blind not to come to the conclusion that this was orchestrated and organized by people under the command of MBS and that he was intricately involved in the demise of Mr. Khashoggi,” Graham added, using the crown prince’s initials.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCheney clashes with Trump Sessions-Tuberville Senate runoff heats up in Alabama GOP lawmakers stick to Trump amid new criticism MORE (R-Tenn.), meanwhile, said there was “zero question” Crown Prince Mohammed he had Khashoggi killed.

"I have zero question in my mind that the crown prince directed the murder and was kept apprised of the situation all the way through. I have zero question in my mind," said Corker, who is retiring in January.

Haspel briefed senators who lead national security-related committees roughly a week after Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisTrump insulted UK's May, called Germany's Merkel 'stupid' in calls: report Mattis urges people to wear masks in PSA about 'nasty little virus' Dozens of GOP ex-national security officials to form group to back Biden: report MORE and Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoIran releases photo of damaged nuclear fuel production site: report To support Hong Kong's freedom, remember America's revolution Senate passes sanctions bill targeting China over Hong Kong law MORE similarly failed to stall Senate action with a briefing on U.S.-Saudi relations and the Yemen civil war.

Senators were unconvinced by the administration's arguments and angry at Haspel’s absence last week. They followed last week’s briefing by advancing 63-37 a resolution to end U.S. military support for the Saudis in Yemen.

But Haspel didn’t sway lawmakers in the briefing from wanting to take action targeting the crown prince, as well as the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen.

In an apparent shift, Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyFights over police reform, COVID-19 delay Senate appropriations markups Trump's push for major infrastructure bill faces GOP opposition Watchdogs express concern to lawmakers about ability to oversee coronavirus relief funds MORE (R-Ala.), who voted against the resolution last week, wouldn’t rule out supporting it after speaking with Haspel.

“All evidence points to that all this leads back to the crown prince,” Shelby said, adding that Khashoggi’s death was “reprehensible conduct.”

Khashoggi’s death has ratcheted up tensions with Saudi Arabia on Capitol Hill, where many already described the relationship as at a low point. Senators say Haspel, who focused her talk on Khashoggi and not Yemen, didn’t change minds in the room but gave a more sober assessment compared with the Mattis-Pompeo briefing last week.

Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinHillicon Valley: Facebook takes down 'boogaloo' network after pressure | Election security measure pulled from Senate bill | FCC officially designating Huawei, ZTE as threats Overnight Defense: Democrats blast Trump handling of Russian bounty intel | Pentagon leaders set for House hearing July 9 | Trump moves forward with plan for Germany drawdown Democrats, voting rights groups pressure Senate to approve mail-in voting resources MORE (D-Ill.) predicted after the briefing that “the sentiment to continue this effort is stronger now than ever.”

Corker acknowledged after the briefing with Haspel that “temperatures are up” among senators.

"I think temperatures are up by all involved … so figuring out something that can pass overwhelmingly still is going to be difficult because some people want to tie the Yemen piece into the Khashoggi piece,” he said.

Asked if Haspel’s briefing changed any minds, Corker shook his head no as the door to his Senate subway car closed.

The Senate could take a vote on proceeding to the Yemen resolution next week. Leadership and supporters of the resolution in talks to try to get a deal to avoid a freewheeling floor vote, where senators will be able to force a vote on any amendment.

The resolution — spearheaded by Sens. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyConnecticut senators call for Subway to ban open carry of firearms Democrats optimistic about chances of winning Senate Gridlock mires chances of police reform deal MORE (D-Conn.), Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Memo: Unhappy voters could deliver political shocks beyond Trump Democratic senator will introduce bill mandating social distancing on flights after flying on packed plane Neil Young opposes use of his music at Trump Mount Rushmore event: 'I stand in solidarity with the Lakota Sioux' MORE (I-Vt.) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSunday shows preview: Lawmakers to address alarming spike in coronavirus cases Senate panel votes 21-1 to back Justice IG measure over Graham objections Senators offer bill to expand charitable giving tax break MORE (R-Utah) — would require Trump to remove any troops in or “affecting” Yemen within 30 days. But some Republican senators say they voted last week to advance the resolution because of the message it sent to Saudi Arabia instead of the substance of the measure.

Corker, who is trying to craft a “consensus” amendment, said there is disagreement about if the Senate should try to respond to both Khashoggi’s death and Yemen in one piece of legislation.

“Some people you know want to tie the Yemen piece into the Khashoggi piece, so that makes it more complicated,” Corker said, declining to comment on what is in his forthcoming amendment.

Graham said he plans to introduce a separate resolution that would get the Senate on record blaming Crown Prince Mohammed for Khashoggi’s death.

“I’m going to try to get a sense of the Senate resolution were we all vote and designate MBS as one of the people responsible for the death of Mr. Khashoggi, that he was complicit in the murder, that I not only have high confidence but overwhelming belief that that’s the case,” Graham said.

He also said he will continue pushing legislation he co-sponsored with Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezSenate Dems request briefing on Russian bounty wire transfers Democratic senator proposes sanctions against Putin over bounties GOP lawmakers voice support for Israeli plan to annex areas in West Bank MORE (D-N.J.) as an amendment to the Yemen resolution. That bill would require sanctions on anyone involved in Khashoggi’s death, a report on Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and a suspension of arms sales to the Saudis, among other provisions.

Graham said he is “getting there” on building a coalition of support for the legislation.

Menendez, ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said he would support substituting his bill as an amendment if there won’t be an up or down on the Yemen resolution.

“I am now more convinced than I was before, and I was pretty convinced, that in fact the United States must have a strong response to both the war in Yemen, as well as the killing of United States permanent resident and journalist in Jamal Khashoggi,” Menendez said. “And I hope that Sen. Graham and my legislation, which would set a real set of consequences … would be a very strong answer to what is happening.”