(CNSNews.com) - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters Wednesday that according to the intelligence that he’s seen, there was “no direct reporting connecting” Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder.
“I do believe I’ve read every piece of intelligence that has come in in the last few hours. I think I’ve read it all. There is no direct reporting connecting the crown prince to the ordered murder of Jamal Khashoggi. That’s all I can say in an unclassified setting,” he said.
Pompeo and Defense Secretary James Mattis spoke with a bipartisan group of senators on the matter and talked about the senators’ proposal to withdraw U.S. support for the Saudi coalition in Yemen. Pompeo said such a move is “poorly timed” and would undermine the administration’s efforts to get a ceasefire in Yemen from an upcoming meeting with all parties involved in December.
“Secretary Mattis and myself just had the opportunity to brief all the senators who wanted to hear from us. We talked about U.S. policy in Yemen, U.S. policy with respect to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. We also obviously spoke about the heinous murder of Jamal Khashoggi, and we made clear that they’re considering debating a resolution on the Senate floor, which we think is just poorly timed,” Pompeo said.
“We are on the cusp of allowing the U.S. envoy Martin Griffiths to in December gather the parties together and hopefully get a ceasefire in Yemen - something that we have diplomatically been striving for for months, and we think we’re right on the cusp of that. So it is the view of the administration, Secretary Mattis, and myself that passing a resolution at this point undermines that,” he said.
“It would encourage the Houthis,” the secretary added. “It would encourage the Iranians. It would undermine the fragile agreement for everyone to go to Sweden and have this discussion, so we hope that they’ll consider that, be thoughtful in how they proceed, and we’re happy to give them further information if they should so choose.”
When asked why CIA Director Gina Haspel wasn’t invited to speak to senators, Pompeo sidestepped the question.
“You’re the former CIA director. Why wasn’t the current CIA director here briefing senators as well?” a reporter asked.
“I was asked to be here. Here I am,” Pompeo said.
“But senators were very frustrated. Normally in your past role as CIA director, you would be here briefing senators on an issue this sensitive. Why isn’t the CIA director herself here?” the reporter asked again.
“I was asked to be here, and I’m here,” Pompeo said.
Prior to Pompeo’s remarks to reporters, several senators spoke out about the Saudi prince’s connection to Khashoggi’s murder.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said after hearing from Pompeo and Mattis, he wasn’t “convinced that we shouldn’t take the action that we’re gonna take this afternoon.”
When asked what he thinks of Pompeo’s critique that the United States needs to stay close to Saudi Arabia to deter Iran, Flake said, “I’m all for realpolitik, but that suggests that you accept the truth, and I think we all know what the truth is - that if he wasn’t directly involved, he certainly knew of it, and the intelligence agents that we are sanctioning, that we are saying were involved are under his direction, so that seems pretty clear.”
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) pointed out Haspel’s absence at the classified hearing, calling it “a cover-up.”
“Not having Gina Haspel, the CIA director at this briefing is a cover-up to a critical question that the members of the Senate have as to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and a critical element of U.S.-Saudi relationships. It’s outrageous that the Senate can be stonewalled from hearing from the CIA director,” he said.
“I have respect for the secretary of state and defense, but I don’t need them to characterize the information of the CIA and the intelligence community. I need to hear it directly. It tells me volumes about what really is going on here,” Menendez said.
The senator said he “heard nothing convincing as it relates to why we should not proceed with the Sanders, Lee and others resolution,” which withdraws U.S. support for Saudi Arabia in Yemen.
“I did not support it originally, because I wanted to give the administration and Department of Defense an opportunity to show me that our efforts were actually making a difference in the humanitarian catastrophe that is Yemen. Since then, all I have seen is a bombing of a school bus full of children, a series of other civilian targets bombed,” Menendez said.
“That is not something that I want the United States involved with, and so I’ll support the Sanders-Lee resolution. I hope others will as well. It’s time to send Saudi Arabia a message both on its violation of human rights and the incredible humanitarian catastrophe it’s creating in Yemen,” the senator added.
When asked why the administration didn’t send Haspel to speak to the senators, Menendez said, “Because Gina Hapsel - if all of the accounts are true - would have said with a high degree of confidence that in fact the crown prince of Saudi Arabia was involved in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a United States permanent resident and a journalist.”
The senator said called it “outrageous” that the United States is “willing to turn our eye away from such a murder because we have ‘interests.’” He said Saudi Arabia will still have the same interests.
“They have a continuing challenge with Iran. They have a continuing challenge with extremism and those who are involved in international terrorism. That’s not going to go away for the Saudis,” Menendez said.
“They’re still going to need the United States in that regard, but when we do not send a message to a country like Saudi Arabia, we tell an ally you can kill with impunity simply because you have some other interest with us, then we send a global message that is frightening and one that does not serve U.S. national interests and a national security,” he added.