The sourcing here claiming that it’s the White House that’s holding Haspel back is thin. But it’s true that she’s not scheduled to attend tomorrow’s briefing on the Saudi-led war in Yemen and it’s also true that that’s … strange under the circumstances. By dint of her visit recently to Turkey to examine the evidence of Khashoggi’s murder, it’s possible that no one in the U.S. government knows as much about the Saudi regime’s culpability as Haspel does. And by dint of her position as head of the CIA, it’s certainly true that few people in the U.S. government know as much about the situation in Yemen as she does.
So why isn’t she testifying?
As of Tuesday, however, the Senate was told by the administration to expect only Pompeo and Mattis at the Wednesday briefing. The White House did not respond to a query on the absence of an intelligence official.
“There is always an intel person there for a briefing like this,” a Senate staffer told the Guardian. “It is totally unprecedented and should be interpreted as nothing less than the Trump administration trying to silence the intelligence community.”…
“This is further evidence that the White House is trying to outdo the Saudis in carrying out the worst cover-up in modern history,” [former CIA official Bruce] Riedel added.
If you want to argue that the war in Yemen and the murder of Khashoggi are two distinct topics, with Haspel’s testimony essential to the latter but not the former, you run into a problem. Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee don’t view them as distinct, at least not completely. Unease with the Saudis’ ruthlessness towards Khashoggi has bred unease with the Saudis’ ruthlessness towards Yemen. There are votes in the balance:
Manchin on Yemen war powers resolution: "We're looking very strongly at that. You know I had a different position on it before, but things have changed with Khashoggi and everything. So yeah, we're looking at it much differently."
— Haley Byrd (@byrdinator) November 27, 2018
A bipartisan resolution has been kicking around the Senate for months that would withdraw U.S. support for the Saudis in Yemen. It was blocked in March on a 55-44 vote, when Mohammed bin Salman was being sold to westerners as a liberal reformer worthy of American backing. His image, and the Saudis’ image, is different now and so some of the “no” votes from March are in play — including those of the top two members of the Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker and Bob Menendez.
“I want to hear where they see this going, what kind of pressure they plan on placing on the situation and how we plan to deal with the issue of what MbS, in my opinion, has done. You can’t just let it stand,” Corker said, using an acronym for Salman…
“The briefings are lacking because there’s no one from the intelligence community there. That says to me that you are specifically trying not to have the key question asked,” Menendez said in a brief hallway interview Monday…
“I’m at a very different place now,” Corker said. “I don’t plan on laying in the railroad tracks, for sure. And depending on what happens Wednesday, I could be in a different place than I have been in the past.”
“I just recommend to them strongly as I did to (Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell) over the weekend, it would be very good for the CIA director to be there too,” said Corker of his advice to the White House on whether Haspel should testify. Why would the White House be so averse to letting her do that? Because, if you believe the reporting, she’s listened to the audio recorded by Turkey of Khashoggi being murdered. Trump and Pompeo have managed to avoid that (at last check, at least), probably deliberately so that they can say honestly to reporters and to members of Congress that they can’t judge the evidence. Haspel would have no such excuse.
And Haspel’s own agency has allegedly concluded “with high confidence” that it was bin Salman who ordered Khashoggi’s assassination, a judgment which Trump has denied but which might carry enough weight with senators to tilt some votes on the Yemen war. A columnist for a Turkish paper has even claimed that the CIA has its own audio of bin Salman giving some sort of order to have Khashoggi “silenced.” If Haspel confirms any of that in testimony, it’ll leak, Trump will be embarrassed, and U.S.-Saudi relations will be imperiled. So no, it’s not crazy to think that the White House doesn’t want her testifying, particularly with Corker eager to ask her about all of this.
Just riddle me this: Democrats are obviously going to demand to hear from her the minute they take power in the House in January. “Little Adam Schitt,” as Trump calls him, will have the gavel on the House Intel Committee and nothing would make him happier than to catch Trump in a lie about the CIA’s assessment of Khashoggi’s murder. Haspel will testify before the House soon, if not tomorrow. In which case, why hold her back? Is the White House playing for time, hoping that the anti-war resolution towards Yemen will be defeated in the meantime before Haspel speaks publicly? Or is Trump just taking it one day at a time, trying to hold her back for as long as he can with no strategic endgame in sight?
Here’s Mike Lee, who’s co-sponsoring the resolution to withdraw U.S. support for the Saudis’ Yemen campaign, being asked if he thinks Trump is right to be skeptical about who killed Khashoggi. No, says Lee, “It’s inconsistent with the intelligence I’ve seen.” How about it, Gina Haspel?