Several GOP officials on Tuesday offered scathing responses to President Donald Trump’s statement which appeared to side with Saudi Arabia over the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Several of Trump’s top GOP allies, including Rand Paul and Lindsey Graham, criticised the president’s forceful defense of Saudi Arabia in light of recent reports suggesting the CIA has concluded with “high confidence” that the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman directly ordered Khashoggi’s killing.
Trump on Tuesday released a lengthy statement in which he recycled unsubstantiated Saudi attacks on Khashoggi’s character and suggested it was possible the crown prince didn’t know about the plot to murder Khashoggi despite the alleged CIA assessment saying otherwise.
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who emerged this summer as one of the president’s biggest allies on issues relating to Russia, slammed Trump’s defense of Saudi Arabia.
“I’m pretty sure this statement is Saudi Arabia First, not America First,” he wrote on Twitter Tuesday. “I’m also pretty sure John Bolton wrote it.”
“The President indicates that Saudi Arabia is the lesser of two evils compared to Iran and so the US won’t punish Saudi Arabia for the brutal killing and dismemberment of a dissident journalist in their consulate. I disagree.” He also pledged to push for legislation to stop Saudi arms sales and the ongoing war with Yemen.
Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, who previously led a group of US officials urging for sanctions against Saudis connected Khashoggi’s disappearance, said congress will “consider all of the tools at our disposal” to prosecute those involved.
“I never thought I’d see the day a White House would moonlight as a public relations firm for the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia,” Corker tweeted. He also touted the possibility of requiring a definitive clarification on Prince Mohammed’s purported role in the killing.
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who has recently transformed into an icon of the right, called for “serious sanctions” against Saudi Arabia, including members of the royal family.
“I firmly believe there will be strong bipartisan support for serious sanctions against Saudi Arabia, including appropriate members of the royal family, for this barbaric act which defied all civilized norms,” he tweeted.
“While Saudi Arabia is a strategic ally, the behavior of the Crown Prince – in multiple ways – has shown disrespect for the relationship and made him, in my view, beyond toxic,” he added. “I fully realize we have to deal with bad actors and imperfect situations on the international stage. However, when we lose our moral voice, we lose our strongest asset.”
Trump has been widely bashed for siding with the Saudis
Trump has been widely bashed for what appears to signal his siding with Saudi Arabia over numerous US intelligence agencies and officials in their assessment of Khashoggi’s murder on October 2.
Khashoggi’s editor at The Washington Post, Karen Attiah, said Trump’s statement represents “a new low.”
Former CIA director John Brennan tweeted that Trump “excels in dishonesty,” and called on members of Congress to declassify CIA findings on Khashoggi’s death.
Daniel Balson, an official at Amnesty International, warned that the Trump administration could be sending out a powerful message about killing journalists and critics without consequence in its handling of Khashoggi’s case.
And Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said “It’s now 100% clear the Saudis own our President.”
Saudi Arabia keeps trying to distance its crown prince, but it may be too late
On Tuesday, Saudi foreign minister Adel Jubeir said allegations linking the crown prince to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi are false.
“We in the kingdom know that such allegations about the crown prince have no basis in truth and we categorically reject them,” al-Jubeir was quoted as saying in Saudi-owned Al Sharq Al Awsat newspaper.
Several news outlets reported over the weekend that the CIA has determined that the crown prince ordered Khashoggi’s assassination. The CIA’s conclusion is reportedly based on several pieces of intelligence, including a call from Saudi ambassador Khalid bin Salman — Mohammed’s brother — to Khashoggi, and audio recordings of the killing that have been circulating around global intelligence agencies.
A former CIA officer and intelligence analyst also claimed the Trump administration is helping the crown prince cover up the October 2 murder.
Saudi Arabia has repeatedly and vehemently denied that its crown prince had any role in Khashoggi’s death, though its version of the events surrounding Khashoggi’s murder have shifted several times over the last several weeks.