Senators Graham, Paul break with Trump on Khashoggi’s killing

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., listens as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appears for the Review the Fiscal Year 2019 State Department budget requests in 2018.


By LESLEY CLARK AND EMMA DUMAIN | McClatchy Washington Bureau | Published: December 4, 2018

WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — Sens. Lindsey Graham and Rand Paul, two of President Donald Trump’s closest allies on foreign policy, said in pointed, angry terms Tuesday that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince was behind the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi — a sharp break with the Trump administration’s view.

“There is not a smoking gun, there’s a smoking saw,” Graham, R-S.C., told reporters after emerging from a Capitol Hill briefing with Central Intelligence Agency Director Gina Haspel.

Graham was convinced the administration was willfully ignoring the evidence linking Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman with Khashoggi’s death to avoid having to sever ties with the kingdom. And Paul, R-Ky., suggested that a “deep state” was at work.

“The very definition of a ‘deep state’ is when the intelligence communities withhold information from Congress,” Paul said. A deep state involves what some believe is an entrenched bureaucracy that runs the government regardless of who is president. Trump frequently has blamed trouble getting things done on such a state.

Graham’s rage about the crown prince’s involvement was shared by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn.

“Let me just put it this way: If he was in front of a jury, he would have a unanimous verdict in 30 minutes. A guilty verdict,” Corker said.

Graham had similar thoughts.

“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,” the senator said, referring to the crown prince by his initials.

“I would really question someone’s judgment if they couldn’t figure this out,” Graham continued. “It is there to be figured out.”

He cited last week’s briefing from Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that suggested the crown price was not involved.

“I think the reason (Mattis and Pompeo) don’t draw the conclusion that he’s complicit is because the administration doesn’t want to go down that road, not because there’s not evidence to suggest he’s complicit,” Graham said.

Paul was not allowed in the Tuesday briefing, which was limited to relevant committee chairmen and other select participants.

He argued that Pompeo and Mattis needed to be asked specifically if they disagreed with the CIA’s conclusion there was “no smoking gun” to link the crown prince to the murder, as the two administration officials insisted in a separate briefing for senators last week.

He said if he was allowed into the secure room for the briefing, he’d ask Haspel several other questions, including whether there were text messages sent from the killers to the crown prince’s office.

Graham and Paul, who frequently find themselves at odds, are also aligned this time in wanting the Senate to adopt a resolution tying the Saudi prince with Khashoggi’s killing. They are also supporting legislation to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen, legislation the Trump administration opposes.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Congress is looking for an “appropriate” response to Khashoggi’s murder, but said the U.S. needs to maintain its relationship with Saudi Arabia.

“No response is certainly not appropriate,” McConnell, R-Ky., said at a Wall Street Journal event. “Looking the other way is not appropriate but a complete fracture with Saudi Arabia, in my view, is not in our best interest long-term.”

©2018 McClatchy Washington Bureau
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