Graham breaks with Trump, says evidence against Saudi prince in murder is 'a smoking saw'

An emphatic Sen. Lindsey Graham broke with President Trump’s conclusion that “we may never know” whether Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had prior knowledge of the plan to kill journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey.

“There’s not a smoking gun; there’s a smoking saw,” Graham, R-S.C., told reporters following a closed-door briefing of senators by CIA Director Gina Haspel on Tuesday. Turkish officials believe Khashoggi’s body was cut up with a bone saw and disposed of after his murder.

In a statement released last month, Trump proclaimed that U.S. intelligence agencies had not determined whether Crown Prince Mohammed had knowledge of the plot to murder Khashoggi at Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul. “Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” Trump exclaimed, before citing the kingdom’s commitment to buy U.S. arms as rationale for not punishing the Saudi government for the killing.

Trump said Saudi Arabia had pledged to “spend and invest $450 billion in the United States,” much of it “on the purchase of military equipment.”

Defense Secretary James Mattis told Senators last week that there was “no smoking gun” linking the crown prince Kahshoggi’s murder.

Graham made it clear Tuesday that he disagreed with both Mattis’s assessment as well as Trump’s moral calculus.

“I cannot support arms sales to Saudi Arabia as long as he’s in charge of this country,” Graham said of the crown prince.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, left, and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salmanr wait for other heads of state for a group photo at the start of the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Friday. (Photo: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., also left the briefing with Haspel more certain the crown prince had a role in the killing. Corker said there is now “zero question” in his mind “that the crown prince directed the murder and he was kept apprised of the situation all the way through.”

“Let me just put it this way,” Corker continued. “If he [Crown Prince Mohammed] was in front of a jury, he would be convicted in 30 minutes.”

In a Monday interview with CNN, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo continued to side with the president, saying that the intelligence assessment on Khashoggi’s death was inconclusive.

“I have read every piece of intelligence that’s in the possession of the United States government,” Pompeo said. “And when it is done, when you complete that analysis, there’s no direct evidence linking him to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.”

Graham scoffed at the notion that uncertainty remained as to whether the crown prince was complicit in the killing, saying one would “have to be willfully blind” to come away with the opinion that he might not have known about it in advance.

“I went into the briefing believing it was virtually impossible for an operation like this to be carried out without the crown prince’s knowledge,” Graham told reporters. “I left the briefing with high confidence that my initial assessment of the situation is correct. I left the briefing being amazed by our CIA and intelligence community’s capability and their analytical reasoning. The CIA, in my view, rose to the occasion, in terms of informing the Congress about what happened on October the 2nd.”

He also addressed the divergent conclusions reached by the CIA, Pompeo and Mattis on the crown prince’s role in Khashoggi’s killing.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., leaves a meeting at the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday. (Photo: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

“As to Pompeo and Mattis, I have great respect for them. I would imagine if they were in a Democratic administration, I would be all over them for being in the pocket of Saudi Arabia,” Graham said. “But since I have such great respect for them, I’m going to assume that they’re being good soldiers, and that when they look at the analysis, they’re being technical in their statement, but they’re not giving the assessment that I think the Senate will have. I would really question somebody’s judgement if they couldn’t figure this out.”

Last week, the Senate rebuked Trump by voting 63-37 in favor of a resolution that would end U.S. involvement in Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen. Many senators cited a canceled briefing by Haspel on the Khashoggi matter as rationale for their vote. Now that Haspel has briefed a select group of senators, however, opposition to Trump’s stance on Saudi Arabia does not seem to be easing.

“Saudi Arabia is a strategic ally and the relationship is worth saving, but not at all costs. We’ll do more damage to our standing in the world and our national security by ignoring MBS than dealing with him,” said Graham.

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