WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said that the GOP conference is discussing how to punish Saudi Arabia for the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
Khashoggi was killed and dismembered last month at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The CIA has reportedly linked the crime back to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman; Khashoggi was a regime critic who had been living in exile for a year in Virginia, and was only at the consulate to get papers needed to marry his Turkish fiancee.
Investigators have heard the recording that captured Khashoggi’s murder inside the Saudi consulate early last month. President Trump told Fox News he hadn’t heard the tape and doesn’t need to “because it’s a suffering tape,” and National Security Advisor John Bolton told reporters today that he hadn’t listened to the tape, either.
“No, I haven’t listened to it. And I guess I should ask you, why do you think I should? What you think I’ll learn from it?” Bolton said at the White House press briefing. “…I’m very satisfied that we know what the tape picked up and it was factored into the president’s decision and he’s announced his position very clearly.”
Trump announced a week ago that he had no intentions to further punish the Saudis for the murder, and acknowledged in a statement that “there are members of Congress who, for political or other reasons, would like to go in a different direction — and they are free to do so.”
Senators from both sides of the aisle are itching to do just that. They’re trying to get CIA Director Gina Haspel to meet with senators Wednesday for a briefing on Saudi Arabia; Bolton denied the White House is blocking her from appearing, despite reports to the contrary.
“What obviously happened, as basically certified by the CIA, is completely abhorrent to everything the United States holds dear and stands for in the world,” McConnell told reporters on Capitol Hill today. “So, some kind of response to that certainly would be in order. And we’re discussing what the appropriate response should be. It’s always been kind of a pragmatic relationship, regardless of who’s been in the White House. We value their opposition to the Iranians and I think almost no one believes we should completely and totally fracture our relationship with the Saudis.”
“But, yes, some kind of response is going to be appropriate and we’re going to be — we’re going to continue to talk about that,” he added.
McConnell said the lame-duck session priorities are “nominations, year-end funding, the Saudi-Yemen issue.”
The Senate is expected to vote this week on a bill introduced earlier this year by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) to pull U.S. support from the Saudis in Yemen, unless Trump declares war.
“The intelligence I’ve seen suggests this was ordered by the crown prince,” Lee told NBC on Sunday about the Khashoggi murder.
Lee said “there are things we can do to change our relationship with the Saudis, notwithstanding whatever [Trump’s] personal motivations might be.”
“I’m also certain that in the next Congress, people will look into that. But again, I think Congress has to take some ownership of U.S. foreign policy.”