U.S. senators more certain than ever Saudi crown prince was behind Khashoggi killing

Leading U.S. senators said on Tuesday they are more certain than ever that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was culpable in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi after receiving a CIA briefing on the matter.

A jury would find him guilty in 'about 30 minutes,' Republican Sen. Bob Corker says

Senators briefed by the CIA director today say they are more certain than ever that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is behind the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. (Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images)

Leading U.S. senators said Tuesday they are more certain than ever that Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman is culpable in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

"The views that I had before have only solidified," said Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate foreign relations committee, who has called for a strong U.S. reaction to Khashoggi's death and backs legislation to end all U.S. support for the Saudi coalition waging war in Yemen.

Menendez spoke to reporters as he left a closed-door briefing for some Senate leaders by CIA director Gina Haspel.   

There's not a smoking gun. There's a smoking saw- Sen. Lindsey Graham 

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who demanded the briefing with Haspel, said there is "zero chance" the crown prince wasn't involved in Khashoggi's death.

"There's not a smoking gun. There's a smoking saw," Graham said, referring to reports from the Turkish government that said Saudi agents used a bone saw to dismember Khashoggi after he was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Graham said "you have to be willfully blind" not to conclude that this was orchestrated and organized by people under the crown prince's command.

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham speaks to reporters after attending a closed-door briefing on the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by CIA Director Gina Haspel. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

When asked if he thought Haspel's briefing had changed any minds, Sen. Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, shook his head no.

Corker said he believes if the crown prince were put on trial, a jury would find him guilty in "about 30 minutes."

Sen. Bob Corker says a jury would find the Saudi crown prince 'in about 30 minutes.' (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

But U.S. President Donald Trump has equivocated over who is to blame for the killing, frustrating senators who are now looking for ways to punish the longtime Middle East ally. Senators overwhelmingly voted last week to move forward on a resolution curtailing U.S. backing for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

It's unclear whether or how that resolution will move forward. The vote last week set up debate on the measure, which could happen as soon as next week, but senators are still in negotiations on whether to amend it and what it should say.

Haspel met with a small group of senators, including the chairmen and top Democrats on the key national security committees, after senators in both parties complained that she didn't attend a briefing with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Jim Mattis last week.

The two men echoed Trump's reluctance to blame the crown prince. Pompeo said there was "no direct reporting" connecting the crown prince to the murder, and Mattis said there was "no smoking gun" making the connection.

The Saudis denied for several days having involvement in Jamal Khashoggi's disappearance and killing. (Hasan Jamali/Associated Press)

U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that the crown prince must have at least known of the plot, but Trump has been reluctant to pin the blame. He has touted Saudi arms deals worth billions of dollars to the U.S. and recently thanked Saudi Arabia for plunging oil prices.

Khashoggi, a U.S. resident who wrote for the Washington Post, was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October in what U.S. officials have described as an elaborate plot.

With files from Reuters