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US senators furious with Saudi Arabia after classified CIA briefing

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WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 28: Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) speaks to the press after receiving a briefing from U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on developments in Saudi Arabia on Capitol Hill on November 28, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)
Zach
Gibson/Getty Images


  • CIA Director Gina Haspel briefed a small group of senators on
    the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
  • Senators left the meeting satisfied with what intelligence
    officials told them, but furious with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed
    bin Salman.
  • Most senators were not allowed to attend the briefing, which
    made them angry with the process.

WASHINGTON — A group of senators received a briefing from CIA
Director Gina Haspel on Tuesday after a bipartisan coalition
advanced a rebuke of President Donald Trump’s support for the
Saudi-Arabian-led military campaign in Yemen last week. 

Upon exiting the closed briefing, senators appeared more furious
than they were just one week ago, signaling that US-Saudi
relations within the Senate are at an all-time low.


Read more:


Senate rebukes Trump for his poor handling of Saudi Arabia
and Khashoggi killing, as 18 senators flip to support War Powers
Resolution

Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, who chairs the powerful Senate
Committee on Foreign Relations, added that while he did not
listen to the audio recording of Khashoggi’s killing, there is

zero question” that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin
Salman directed the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal
Khashoggi.

“The royal family inside the country looks to what the
president says and so do people in the region,” Corker told
reporters. “And therefore I think it would appear to them and to
people in the region that just based on what has been said, that
someone like MBS can murder people and have immunity.”

But Corker noted the difficult path for the working group
looking to push back on the White House’s response to Khashoggi’s
murder as well as the human rights issues with the Saudi-led
campaign in Yemen.

“I think temperatures are up by all involved would be my
guess,” he said. “So figuring out something that can pass
overwhelmingly still is going to be difficult because some people
want to tie the Yemen piece in to the Khashoggi piece and so that
makes it more complicated.”

Not all senators were allowed into the briefing, frustrating
critics of Saudi Arabia

The Haspel briefing came just one week after Defense Sec. Jim
Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke with all senators
on the situation with Saudi Arabia. Only a handful of committee
heads and members of leadership were permitted in the briefing.
Most senators were not allowed to hear from Haspel and even found
out about the briefing’s existence through reporters in the
media.

But many members were distraught that Haspel and other
representatives from the intelligence community did not make
themselves available. The lack of access even prompted Republican
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina to vote to advance the War
Powers Resolution out of spite.

Graham attended the briefing on Tuesday, after which he said he
cannot support arm sales to the Saudis as long as bin Salman is
in charge. 

“Saudi Arabia is a strategic ally and the relationship is
worth saving, but not at all costs,” Graham said. “We’ll do more
damage to our standing in the world and our national security by
ignoring MBS than dealing with him. MBS, the crown prince, is a
wrecking ball. I think he’s complicit in the murder of Mr.
Khashoggi in the highest level possible.”

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who has been one of the Republicans
leading the charge against the effort to stop arm sales to Saudi
Arabia, cast the exclusion as unfair and part of the “deep state”
to withhold information from senators.

When asked why he was blaming outside forces for not providing a
briefing to the full Senate, Paul dismissed the notion that the
White House was a primary culprit, noting his opposition to the
way the intelligence community compartmentalizes information
given to members of Congress.

“It has nothing to do with Trump. Not everything’s about
Trump,” Paul said. “There are eight people in Congress who get
briefings on intelligence. That is not democracy. That is not
democratic representation, nor is it democratic
oversight.”

Still, Democrats are likely to hold firm on their position from
last week, which included several members flipping their position
from a similar vote last March.

“I’ll simply say that 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 a United States permanent resident and
journalist in Jamal Khashoggi,” said New Jersey Sen. Bob
Menendez, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.
“And only a strong response by the United States will send a
clear and unequivocal message that such actions are not
acceptable in the world’s stage.”

But the several Republicans who backed the War Powers
Resolution might need more to secure their commitment to the
plan. It is still unclear what that kind of response would
include.

“How to deal with that without harming our own national
interests is the challenge that we have,” Corker said.

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