Three Republican senators criticized Saudi Arabia's withering explanations for journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder and have called on the Trump administration to take significant action against the kingdom should the Saudi crown prince be found responsible.
Saudi Arabia had initially denied any involvement in Khashoggi's disappearance but claimed via state media last week that Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist had been strangled in a fistfight with 15 men sent to confront him at the Saudi consulate in Turkey. The kingdom blamed some of the crown prince's inner circle for the murder, and several high-ranking officials were dismissed if not detained outright.
The first legislator, outgoing Senator Bob Corker (TN) said Saudi Arabia's story "is just not credible" and expressed his belief that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was personally involved in the killing.
“Obviously, if [MBS] has gone forth and murdered this journalist, he’s now crossed the line, and there has to be a punishment and a price paid for that,” Corker said. “Do I think he did it? Yeah. I think he did it.”
Senator Rand Paul (KY) also weighed in, calling Saudi Arabia's explanations "insulting." He suggested that President Donald Trump should follow the lead of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and cease arms sales to the country. (Germany has
“I think it stretches credulity to believe that the crown prince wasn’t involved in this,” Paul told “Fox News Sunday.” “There’s no way 15 people were sent from Saudi Arabia to Turkey to kill a dissident without the approval of the crown prince.”
“That’s why I say we have to be stronger than just saying, ‘Oh, we’re going to sanction a few of these people and pretend like we’re doing something.’ I think we really need to discontinue our arms sales to Saudi Arabia and have a long and serious discussion about whether they want to be an ally or they want to be an enemy," he added.
Senator Ben Sasse (NE) echoed Senator Paul's suggestion.
“We don’t do arms sales for the purpose of the profits from arms sales ― we do arm sales because we want to be aligned with different countries around the globe that believe in our values,” Sasse told CNN. "I think the cover stories from the Saudis are a mess. You don’t bring a bone saw to an accidental fistfight. ... The Saudis have said a whole bunch of crap that’s not right, accurate or true.”
Last week, sources familiar with Khashoggi's case told CNN that Khashoggi’s murder “was organized by a high-ranking officer with the General Intelligence Presidency, Saudi Arabia’s main intelligence service.”
The report continues:
One of those sources described the officer as close to the inner circle of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. It is unclear whether the crown prince authorized an interrogation, abduction or killing. Several officials CNN spoke with said the mission could not have happened without the direct knowledge of the 33-year-old crown prince, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, who is known by his initials “MBS.”
A second source said the officer assembled and sent his own team to interrogate Khashoggi. They suspected Khashoggi of having ties to the kingdom’s arch rival, Qatar, the source said. There has been no evidence to substantiate Khashoggi had such ties.
Another source told CNN the mission’s organizer was not transparent about what he told Riyadh, which, the source said, explained why the government had no clear information for days.
A Turkish official told the network that Khashoggi’s body was cut into pieces after he was killed two weeks ago.
President Donald Trump's response, meanwhile, has been largely ineffectual.
On Saturday, the president told Washington Post reporters that “obviously there’s been deception, and there’s been lies" regarding Khashoggi's killing. But he also said Saudi Arabia is "an incredible ally" and pushed back against assertions that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had ordered Saudi operatives to kill the reporter.
“Nobody has told me he’s responsible. Nobody has told me he’s not responsible. We haven’t reached that point . . . I would love if he wasn’t responsible,” Trump said.
Trump characterized Saudi Arabia's explanation for Khashoggi's killing as "credible," but defended his son-in-law Jared Kushner’s close relationship with the crown prince amid concerns that it had become a liability for the White House.
“They’re two young guys. Jared doesn’t know him well or anything. They are just two young people. They are the same age. They like each other, I believe,” Trump said.
The president also shot down the possibility that the scandal would disrupt U.S.-Saudi arms sales.
“It’s the largest order in history,” Trump said. “To give that up would hurt us far more than it hurts them. Then all they’ll do is go to Russia or go to China. All that’s doing is hurting us.” He added: "With that being said, something will take place," though he did not elaborate as to what those actions might be.
Last week, the president raised eyebrows after he compared allegations that Saudi officials had orchestrated the murder of Khashoggi to accusations of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Speaking to The Associated Press, the president said, “I think we have to find out what happened first. Here we go again with, you know, you’re guilty until proven innocent. I don’t like that. We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh and he was innocent all the way as far as I’m concerned.”