Republican senators on Sunday condemned President Donald Trump’s decision to stand by Saudi Arabia even after the CIA determined that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was behind the murder of journalist Jamal Khoshoggi.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), a vocal critic of the president, blasted the bombshell statement Trump issued last week in defense of Saudi Arabia, calling it “very weak.”
“MBS contributed to murdering somebody abroad and it is not strength to sort of mumble past that,” Sasse told “Fox News Sunday,” referring to the crown prince. “Strength is telling the truth even when it’s hard.”
Trump shocked U.S. lawmakers and world leaders when he vowed to maintain a partnership with Saudi Arabia, despite mounting evidence that MBS ordered the assassination of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who had criticized the crown prince.
The Washington Post reported earlier this month that the CIA had determined MBS ordered Khashoggi’s assassination. The Saudi journalist is believed to have been killed soon after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last month, and his body was then dismembered and disposed of.
“Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event ― maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” Trump said in his bizarre, exclamation-laded statement last week.
“The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region,” the president added, noting Saudi investments in U.S. military equipment and other contracts.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) told NBC’s “Meet The Press” on Sunday that he also disagreed with Trump’s willingness to turn the other cheek on MBS’s apparent involvement in the Khashoggi killing.
“It’s inconsistent with the intelligence I’ve seen,” Lee said. “The intelligence I’ve seen suggests that this was ordered by the crown prince and is yet another reason why I’ve been pushing ... to get us out of fighting Saudi Arabia’s civil war effort in Yemen against the Houthis.”
Lee called on Congress to “take some ownership” of U.S. foreign policy and reconsider its partnership with the Middle Eastern kingdom.
Saudi Arabia “is not an ally that deserves this kind of military intervention, especially because there’s been no connection between the safety of the American people and our involvement in this war,” he said. “I believe this is an opportunity for the Congress to weigh in and say, ’Let’s halt our efforts in Yemen.’”
The Senate is expected to take up a bill this week from Lee and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) that would end U.S. involvement in the Saudi conflict in Yemen ― a military campaign that has created the world’s largest humanitarian crisis and is a major element of current U.S.-Saudi cooperation.
Lee also predicted the incoming Congress, featuring a Democratic-majority House, will likely look into Trump’s “personal motivations” in siding with the Saudis.
“I don’t know why [Trump] is siding with the Saudis but I think there are things we can to change our relationship with the Saudis ― not withstanding whatever his personal motivations might be,” Lee told NBC. “I’m also certain in the next Congress, people will look into that.”
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) stopped short of saying Trump had given the Saudis “a pass,” but acknowledged Congress should continue to examine the CIA’s findings on Khashoggi’s death.
“I do think we need to look into this further,” Ernst told CNN’s “State Of The Union.” “We need to understand where the investigations are leading to us and I’m anxious to hear from a number of our intelligence agencies on this.”
“Now, Saudi Arabia is a great strategic partner for us,” she added. “However, human rights ― we also are a very strong nation when it comes to human rights, when it comes to the rule of law, and if there are indicators that the prince was involved in this murder, then we need absolutely to consider further action.”