U.S. intelligence is reportedly convinced Saudi crown prince ordered Khashoggi hit, but they can't inform Congress
There's a growing consensus in Washington and Europe that Saudi Arabia, specifically Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is culpable in the Oct. 2 disappearance and likely murder of U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. And the latest group signaling its conviction of the crown prince's guilt is the U.S. intelligence community, The New York Times reports. This assessment, based so far on growing circumstantial evidence, poses a challenge for President Trump and some of his key advisers, who have urged patience and highlighted Saudi Arabia's denials and the kingdom's economic and strategic importance.
Trump can ignore or disagree with the U.S. intelligence assessment, the Times says, but so far he's keeping Congress out of the loop. The Trump administration has "clamped down" on sharing intelligence about the Khashoggi case and canceled a classified briefing scheduled for Tuesday, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said Wednesday. "I suppose they don't want us to see the intel," he said, and "I can only surmise that probably the intel is not painting a pretty picture as it relates to Saudi Arabia." Based on previous intelligence he reviewed, Corker added, "everything points not to just Saudi Arabia, but to MBS," as bin Salman is commonly called.
Other senators from both parties have also called for a stronger response to Saudi Arabia's apparently brutal murder inside its Istanbul consulate, and they can act without the White House, voting for sanctions with a veto-proof majority. But Trump is reportedly holding out for what The Washington Post calls a "mutually agreeable explanation" from the Saudis, one that avoids implicating MBS. "The president is trying to introduce a little calm into this, to wait and see who's directly responsible," Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani explained to the Post. "While he makes clear he doesn't approve of what has happened, it's complicated because this isn't a pure enemy he's dealing with, like if Iran did it."