Gina Haspel, the CIA director who heard audio of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and helped determine that the Saudi crown prince was likely behind it, was noticeably absent during a Capitol Hill briefing on U.S.-Saudi relations on Wednesday.
Haspel was absent at the request of the White House, Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) said after the briefing. The White House, however, has denied preventing the senior military official from joining the closed-door briefing to the Senate, The Guardian reports.
The lawmakers met ahead of a vote that would cut off military aid to Saudi Arabia over the war in Yemen.
Durbin said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis decided Haspel could not attend.
“The most persuasive presence at today’s security briefing on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi was the empty chair meant for CIA Director Gina Haspel,” Durbin told reporters following the briefing. “This White House won’t acknowledge [Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s] direct involvement in this crime.”
Trump has continued to discredit the CIA’s findings and refuses to acknowledge the Saudi government played a role in Khashoggi’s killing. After the briefing, Pompeo told reporters there is “no direct reporting” connecting the prince to the journalist’s death. The CIA assessed that the crown prince most likely directed the murder, but the agency did not make a final conclusion, allowing the White House to use that as an out, administration sources told CNN.
“I cannot recall a briefing on such a sensitive nature where we have been denied intelligence agencies of the United States,” Durbin said.