Senate leaders are pitted against the White House in an escalating battle over whether Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman himself ordered the hit on the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. That split grew into a chasm on Tuesday, after CIA Director Gina Haspel briefed select Senate leaders on her agency’s conclusions.
Her closed-door testimony followed separate briefings from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense James Mattis last week. Though both officials stated then that there was no direct proof of the crown prince’s involvement, senators from both parties cast doubt on that conclusion in public remarks afterward.
President Donald Trump has put himself somewhere in between, claiming that the question of the crown prince’s culpability may be fundamentally unanswerable and that even if it weren’t, the answer mattered little. “I don’t know,” he said recently when asked whether MbS, as the crown prince is known, was responsible. “The CIA doesn’t say they did it. They do point out certain things. And in pointing out those things, you can conclude that maybe he did or maybe he didn’t.”
Either way, with Trump and top aides coalescing to emphasize the overriding importance of the U.S.-Saudi relationship—and the perfidy of its regional archrival Iran—the Senate is looking for ways to censure the kingdom beyond the Trump administration’s move to sanction 17 Saudi officials accused of involvement in the murder. An upcoming vote on U.S. support for the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen will provide a test.