US senators blast Saudi prince over Khashoggi, after CIA chief briefing

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WASHINGTON: Two key US Republican senators said yesterday briefing by the CIA’s director only strengthened their conviction that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince directed the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The explosive new declarations by members of President Donald Trump’s own party run counter to the White House narrative downplaying possible links between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the October killing of journalist and palace critic Khashoggi at the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate.

“I have zero question in my mind that the crown prince directed the murder and was kept appraised of the situation all the way through it,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker told reporters after CIA director Gina Haspel briefed a small group of senators.

“If MBS were in front of a jury, he’d be convicted in less than 30 minutes,” Corker said, using the prince’s initials.

Fellow Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally who has joined a growing collection of lawmakers urging the president to take a far tougher stance against Riyadh, also attended the hour-long closed-door briefing, and minced no words afterwards.

The crown prince is “crazy” and “a wrecking ball” who is “complicit in the murder of Mr Khashoggi to the highest level possible,” Graham said in withering criticism of an American ally.

“There’s not a smoking gun but a smoking saw.”

The South Carolina senator was directly repudiating comments by top Trump administration officials, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who just last week said there was “no smoking gun” implicating the crown prince.

US newspapers, including The Wall Street Journal, have reported that the CIA has evidence that Prince Mohammed exchanged 11 messages with his close aide Saud al-Qahtani, who allegedly oversaw the murder, just before and after it took place.

Some of the most important evidence may be an audio recording of the murder that Turkey said it has distributed. Graham said that was not played in Tuesday’s briefing. -AFP

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