Bob Menendez

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Menendez Accuses White House Of Cover Up After CIA Director Excluded From Closed-Door Khashoggi Briefing

November 28, 2018 - 2:33 pm

WASHINGTON (WCBS 880/AP) -- Senators are expressing disappointment that officials from the intelligence community were not present at a closed-door briefing over the U.S. response to the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois said the White House made the decision that CIA Director Gina Haspel would not appear at Wednesday's briefing alongside the secretaries of state and defense.

Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey accused the Trump administration of attempting to "stonewall" the Senate and called the absence of an intelligence official "outrageous." Menendez, ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, accuses the White House of covering up what it knows about Khashoggi's murder.

Sen. Bob Corker, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he was disappointed Haspel was not present at the briefing, but declined further comment.

Menendez said the fact that Haspel was not at the briefing indicates a "cover up" by the White House and raises questions about the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia, as well as how far up in the Saudi government the death of Khashoggi ultimately rose.

U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that the Saudi crown prince must have at least known about a plot to kill Khashoggi. President Donald Trump has equivocated over who is to blame.

"The fact that the administration would not send her is very clear to me that they don't want to send her because published reports suggest that the CIA investigation and analysis says that with a high-degree of confidence — which is the highest degree that they ever give in any analysis — that the crown prince of Saudi Arabia was involved. And so not having her today there and having that information characterized by others is just simply not acceptable and it's a telltale sign of what's really going on," Menendez told WCBS 880's Steve Scott. 

Last week, Trump announced the U.S. would not punish Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman nor cut arms sales to Saudi Arabia for the killing of Khashoggi. The president called the murder a "horrible crime" that the U.S. does not condone, but said Saudi Arabia is a "great ally" and canceling billions in arms sales would only benefit China and Russia, which would be glad to step in and make the sales.

Some have accused the U.S. of giving the Saudi royal family a pass, and have called for the U.S. to take a tougher stand against Saudi Arabia. 

Menedez says the president is "looking the other way."

"It's a danger not just in our relationship with Saudi Arabia, but it is a global message that you can kill with impunity, but if you have some other interests that the United States is interested in, then ultimately you can do so without consequence," Menendez said. "That is a dangerous message to the world, it undermines our nation's history as an advocate for human rights and democracy and the reason we advocate for that it's not just from a principal position but because those countries that observe democracy and human rights are ultimately far better allies. So yes, I do think that they are looking the other way, and I think that has an enormous consequence."

Following the closed-door briefing, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says there's no intelligence connecting the order to murder Khashoggi to the Saudi crown prince. Pompeo told reporters "I do believe I've read every piece of intelligence'' that came in "and there is no direct reporting connecting the crown prince to the order to murder Jamal Khashoggi.'' 
He urged senators to continue to support U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen and maintain strong ties to Saudi Arabia, a longtime U.S. ally. 

(© 2018 WCBS 880. The Associated Press contributed to this report)