Sounds like it didn’t go the president’s way today. The line on Mohammed bin Salman’s guilt from POTUS, remember, is “maybe he did and maybe he didn’t.” Now here’s his frenemy Bob Corker after Gina Haspel’s long-awaited briefing.
.@SenBobCorker: "I have zero question in my mind that the Crown Prince, MBS, ordered the killing. Monitored the killing. Knew exactly what was happening. Planned it in advance. If he was in front of a jury, he would be convicted in 30 minutes. Guilty." pic.twitter.com/adYInZqxch
— CSPAN (@cspan) December 4, 2018
Is Corker exaggerating for effect? Doesn’t sound like it, per Trump golf buddy Lindsey Graham. I recommend watching the full seven-minute video of his statement but here’s the takeaway:
“It is zero chance, zero, that this happened in such an organized fashion without the (Saudi) crown prince,” Sen. Lindsey Graham after being briefed by the CIA on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi pic.twitter.com/MomKPTiDVB
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) December 4, 2018
He went on to call bin Salman “crazy,” “dangerous,” and complicit to the “highest level possible” in Khashoggi’s death and vowed that he won’t support further arms sales to the Kingdom so long as he remains in charge. Wait a sec, said reporters, didn’t James Mattis and Mike Pompeo tell us the opposite of all this, that in fact there’s no direct evidence or smoking gun pointing to bin Salman? To which Graham replied by calling the two of them liars — politely, sure, but with the pointed aside that he would have been all over them for their misstatements had they been Democrats. He’s accusing them of participating in a Trump-led whitewash, replete with a dig about being in the Saudis’ pockets.
Sen. Graham says "you have to be willfully blind" not to come to conclusion that Saudi crown prince was "integrally involved" in Khashoggi murder. Pomepo and Mattis aren't drawing this conclusion because admin "doesn't want to go down this road," he adds https://t.co/iZZbpgzx7c pic.twitter.com/YH7U9DCXBs
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) December 4, 2018
Corker doesn’t seem to know yet what he wants by way of a legislative solution to all this. Graham does. He wants a “sense of the Senate” resolution formally accusing bin Salman of complicity and placing the Kingdom on notice that business as usual with the United States, starting with arms sales, is at an end until everyone involved in the Khashoggi murder is brought to justice. By which, of course, he means Mohammed bin Salman himself. He’s aiming for nothing more or less than regime change in Saudi Arabia with America’s leverage brought to bear to carry out the task. Let the word go forth among America’s many sleazy allies: The next time you murder a journalist, make sure it’s done with much more plausible deniability than this one was.
What about the Saudi war in Yemen, though? This flare-up between Trump and Congress began last week when Haspel was strangely absent from a briefing on that topic. Graham and Corker agitated to hear from her, which led to today’s briefing on Khashoggi. Now that they have, it’s clear that Senate opposition to the war will only grow; last week a measure to advance Mike Lee’s resolution withdrawing U.S. support for the effort passed with 63 votes. With even a super-hawk like Graham now insisting that America’s ally in that war is deranged, odds seem good that Lee’s resolution will pass. And of course a similar resolution is likely to pass the newly Democratic House in January. There’s a chance that a bipartisan Congress will send a joint resolution to Trump’s desk next year withdrawing American backing from the war, with POTUS given the choice either to sign it or to stick with bin Salman and risk a constitutional showdown in court over Congress’s power under the War Powers Act.
Exit question: Are the Saudis now faced with a choice between their prince and American support for their mission in Yemen? Graham’s position seems to be that they can have one but not the other. Which is more important to them?