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Trump accused of ‘cover-up’ after barring Haspel from briefing Senate

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cia director gina haspel
Then-CIA nominee Gina
Haspel in May 2018.

Alex
Wong/Getty


  • President Donald Trump is being accused of engaging in a
    “cover-up” after reportedly preventing CIA Director Gina Haspel
    from attending a Wednesday Senate briefing on Jamal Khashoggi’s
    killing. 
  • Former intelligence officials described the apparent move as
    “very unusual” as both Republican and Democratic senators
    complained about Haspel’s absence. 
  • Jeff Prescott, who served as a senior director for the Middle
    East on the National Security Council in the Obama
    administration, told INSIDER, “The reaction you see from members
    shows how unusual it is.”
  • Glenn Carle, a former CIA covert operative, described the
    situation as “another step in Trump’s erosion of our system of
    government.”

The White House reportedly
refused to allow CIA Director Gina Haspel to attend a Wednesday
Senate briefing
on Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s
killing, a move that has prompted confusion from former
intelligence officials and accusations of a “cover-up” from the
president’s critics. 

The CIA director traveled to Istanbul to learn more about the
killing, and listened to audio of the incident during her visit.
The CIA and the White House did not immediately respond to
requests for comment from INSIDER.

Republican Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee, had requested Haspel’s presence.

Accordingly, Haspel’s absence from Wednesday’s briefing, which
was attended by Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of
State Mike Pompeo, did not go unnoticed. 

‘Nobody was happy that she wasn’t there, put it that way’

Republican Sen. Jeff Flake said Haspel’s absence from the
briefing was noted “several times.”

“A lot of us were frustrated that she wasn’t there…Nobody was
happy that she wasn’t there, put it that way,” Flake said.

Republican Sen. Cory Gardner expressed similar sentiments. “It
would be nice if the CIA director addressed the Congress,”
Gardner
told reporters after the briefing
.

Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez took things a step further, accusing
the Trump administration of engaging in a “cover-up” on the
“critical question” of Khashoggi’s “murder.”

Read more: ‘Saudi
Arabia First, not America First’: Even top GOP allies of Trump
are railing against his defense of Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi’s
killing

The CIA has reportedly concluded with
“high confidence”
that Khashoggi’s killing was ordered by
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of the
kingdom, with whom President Donald Trump has developed a strong
relationship.


Trump has stood by Prince Mohammed
throughout the Khashoggi
controversy, issuing a
forceful defense the kingdom last Tuesday.

After the briefing, Pompeo, who previously served as CIA director
under Trump, dodged questions on why Haspel didn’t attend. “I was
asked to be here, and I’m here,” Pompeo said on the matter, also
claiming there is no
“direct reporting”
linking the crown prince to Khashoggi’s
killing. 

Corker, however, said, “I don’t think there’s anybody in the room
that doesn’t believe [Prince Mohammed] was responsible for it.”


Trump Mohammed bin Salman
President
Donald Trump does not want to reduce arms sales to Saudi Arabia
as a response to Jamal Khashoggi’s
disappearance.

Kevin
Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images


‘It’s not the White House’s role to determine what intelligence
Congress receives’

Multiple former intelligence officials and foreign policy experts
portrayed Haspel’s absence as highly unusual. 

Caroline Tess, who served as special assistant to the president
and senior director for legislative affairs on the National
Security Council under the Obama administration, told INSIDER,
“It’s not the White House’s role to determine what intelligence
Congress receives or what briefings Congress receives from the
intelligence community.” 

Robert Deitz, a former top lawyer at the CIA and National
Security Agency, echoed these sentiments.


Read more:
Trump is wrong, Saudi Arabia needs the US a lot more than the US
needs the kingdom

Deitz told INSIDER it was “very unusual” for senior intelligence
officials to not participate in briefing lawmakers on a
high-profile matter like Khashoggi’s death. But, he added, “the
Trump White House is a bit thin on trust.”

Glenn Carle, a former CIA covert operative, also said it’s
“highly unusual” for the White House to bar senior intelligence
officials from briefing the Senate. “Another step in Trump’s
erosion of our system of government,” he said, and added that
it’s possible Trump may not even have the authority to determine
who briefs the oversight committees.


khashoggi mbs
A
composite image of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and Saudi
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Associated Press/Virginia Mayo; Nicolas Asfouri –
Pool/Getty


‘The reaction you see from members shows how unusual it is’

Jeff Prescott, who served as special assistant to the president
and senior director for Iran, Iraq, Syria, and the Gulf States on
the National Security Council in the Obama administration, also
said it was “very unusual” Haspel did not attend. 

“The reaction you see from members shows how unusual it is,”
Prescott said. 

Noting Menendez’s characterization of the move as a “cover-up,”
Prescott added that in some ways you could argue it’s “even worse
than a cover-up” because the administration is seemingly offering
a different story on Khashoggi’s killing than what the US
intelligence community has reportedly concluded. 

“I don’t know exactly what’s going on in terms of how the
administration is thinking about this, but they appear to have
made the conclusion providing the intelligence [to Congress]
would be more damaging to their case than the anger from not
having the intelligence community represented,” Prescott
said. 

This appears to be a ‘delay tactic’

Michael S. Smith II, a terrorism analyst and national security
expert, told INSIDER if it’s true the Trump administration
“discouraged” Haspel from accepting requests to brief the Senate
it would be an “extraordinary move” and “one that demands a
congressional investigation.”

After the initial reports on the White House’s move to bar Haspel
from the briefing, Smith said he contacted intelligence
historians and former CIA officials — including a former CIA
director — to see if there was any precedent for an
administration “testing the bounds” of its authority in such a
way. “No one could come up with one,” said Smith, who’s offered
expert testimony on intelligence matters before the Senate.

“Director Haspel has served as the de facto case officer managing
CIA’s evaluation of who may be responsible for the murder of
Jamal Khashoggi,” Smith said, adding her absence from the
briefing made it a “giant waste of time.”

Smith also added that this appears to be a “delay tactic” from
the White House to shield Prince Mohammed and decrease the
likelihood Congress will take actions against him.

The Senate is set to vote on a resolution to end US support for
Saudi Arabia in the Yemen conflict, which Trump opposes

Wednesday’s briefing on Khashoggi’s killing came before a vote
was set to occur on
a resolution from Sen. Bernie Sanders
to end US support for
Saudi Arabia in the Yemen conflict.

Pompeo after the briefing said the vote was “poorly timed” and
claimed the resolution would serve the interests of Iran. 


Bernie Sanders
Sen.
Bernie Sanders on Wednesday called for the US to end its support
for Saudi Arabia in the Yemen conflict.

C-SPAN

The resolution is being co-sponsored by Democratic Sen. Chris
Murphy and Republican Sen. Mike Lee. 

“[Sanders] and I disagree on many things but we agree on this,”
Lee said to reporters following the briefing. “Our chief
executive can not enter war unilaterally.”

Khashoggi’s killing has made other senators reevaluate why the US
has so “blindly” entered into an alliance with the kingdom,
particularly in terms of the Yemen conflict, Lee added.

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