Senators Briefed On Killing Of Jamal Khashoggi And Yemen Conflict Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo briefed senators on the investigation of journalist Jamal Khashoggi's killing by Saudis and the conflict in Yemen.
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Senators Briefed On Killing Of Jamal Khashoggi And Yemen Conflict

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Senators Briefed On Killing Of Jamal Khashoggi And Yemen Conflict

Senators Briefed On Killing Of Jamal Khashoggi And Yemen Conflict

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Nearly two months have passed since the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Turkey. Today, in a rebuke of Saudi Arabia and the Trump administration's response to the killing, senators voted overwhelmingly to move forward on a resolution limiting American involvement in the civil war in Yemen.

Now, this comes hours after Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended the U.S.-Saudi relationship before senators. And they urged the Senate not to proceed with that vote. The vote also reflects frustration from some lawmakers that CIA Director Gina Haspel has not briefed them on the intelligence that describes the circumstances of Khashoggi's death.

NPR's Tim Mak is on Capitol Hill watching all of this. Hey, Tim.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Hey there.

KELLY: Start with this Senate resolution on Yemen. What exactly would it do?

MAK: So the U.S. is currently assisting the Saudis in their war against Iranian-backed fighters. And so the Senate resolution is a bipartisan bill, and it would direct the president to remove U.S. military forces from the hostilities in and around Yemen except those operations directed at al-Qaida. It passed 63-37, which, in this narrowly divided Senate, counts as pretty overwhelming support.

I mean, you just have to look at the lead co-sponsors on the bill. You've got conservative Mike Lee on the one hand and self-proclaimed democratic socialist Bernie Sanders on the other. They voted on this issue, the senators did, despite public and private pleas from Pompeo not to proceed with it because he said it would undermine future peace talks. Supporters of the legislation argue that the civil war in Yemen is a humanitarian catastrophe, that there's no need for the U.S. to be helping the Saudis in this conflict and that Congress hasn't authorized military force.

KELLY: This is sounding awfully like a resolution that they voted on back in the spring so - which didn't pass. Why has it now got, as you described it, pretty overwhelming support?

MAK: Yeah. This resolution was voted on in March, and it failed to pass that initial procedural hurdle. But a lot of people have changed their minds, and the killing of Khashoggi in October really appears to have changed the calculations. Here's Senator Mike Lee. He's a Republican who is a co-sponsor on this legislation.

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MIKE LEE: And I think the Khashoggi incident has also gotten a lot of people's attention and has perhaps caused a lot of people to wonder why we should so blindly, so willingly, enter into an alliance with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to fight the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen.

KELLY: Tim Mak, let me turn you back to the appearance earlier today before lawmakers by Mike Pompeo and Jim Mattis. What else did they say, and how was their message received by the senators listening?

MAK: So the two secretaries, they briefed lawmakers on the U.S. mission in Yemen, and they argued it, hey, it's in America's interest to be involved there. They also reviewed the intelligence around the killing of Khashoggi and said that the intelligence they reviewed did not directly implicate the crown prince. Here's Pompeo.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIKE POMPEO: There is no direct reporting connecting the crown prince to the order to murder Jamal Khashoggi.

MAK: The president also has said that the intelligence is inconclusive. But previous intelligence reviewed by senators suggests that the crown prince was responsible. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has previously told reporters that it was, quote, "basically certified" that he was involved. In a way, the briefing backfired because lawmakers were especially upset that the CIA director, Gina Haspel, was not there to brief them on these intelligence matters.

KELLY: Right. This has emerged as a big point of controversy. What do we know about why she wasn't at the briefing today?

MAK: Well, so certain senators told reporters that the White House was directly involved in blocking her from briefing lawmakers and this - even staunch Trump defender Senator Lindsey Graham. Here's what he had to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LINDSEY GRAHAM: I am not going to be denied the ability to be briefed by the CIA that we have oversight of about whether or not their assessment supports my belief that this could not have happened without MBS knowing.

MAK: The CIA has said it was false that anyone told Haspel not to attend the briefing and that the agency has fully briefed the Senate on its intelligence.

KELLY: All right. A mystery that we will count on you to help us unravel. NPR's Tim Mak reporting from Capitol Hill. Thank you, Tim.

MAK: Thanks a lot.

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