After Tuesday's briefing by CIA Director Gina Haspel, US senators sounded more convinced than ever that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman is responsible for the murder of Saudi journalist and US resident Jamal Khoshoggi.
Khashoggi was last seen walking into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October. The CIA believes a Saudi hit squad killed him there on the crown prince's instructions -- one of them reportedly using a bone saw.
The White House is refusing to pin the blame on the crown prince, apparently afraid of damaging relations. Secretary of Defense James Mattis was emphatic last week, telling reporters, "We have no smoking gun that the Crown Prince was involved."
But after Tuesday's CIA briefing, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham (SC) disagreed. "There's not a smoking gun, there's a smoking saw," Graham told reporters."You have to be willfully blind not to come to the conclusion that this was orchestrated and organized by people under the command of MBS (Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman)."
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Bob Corker (R-TN) was also briefed and said, "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 jury he would be convicted in 30 minutes, guilty. "
The killing has become a major diplomatic problem for the White House. Militarily, Saudi Arabia is a staunch ally and a buffer against Iranian military expansion.
A major arms sale to the Saudis is also in the offing. But the Senate could vote to end that arms sale or end US support of Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen.
So far, President Trump has given the Saudi crown prince the benefit of the doubt about his role in the incident.
Two weeks ago Trump said, "I don't know. But whether he (MBS) did or whether he didn't, he denies it vehemently."
And a Saudi embassy spokesperson tweeted Tuesday: "At no time did HRH (His Royal Highness) the Crown Prince correspond with any Saudi officials in any government entity on harming Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen. We categorically reject any accusations purportedly linking the Crown Prince to this horrific incident."
At no time did HRH the Crown Prince correspond with any saudi officials in any government entity on harming Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen. We categorically reject any accusations purportedly linking the Crown Prince to this horrific incident.
— Fatimah S Baeshen (@FatimahSBaeshen) December 4, 2018
But the evidence shown to senators indicates otherwise, and there is now increased pressure on the White House to admit that the crown prince was responsible.