US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo briefed Senators in the US Congress Wednesday ahead of a vote they're expected to take on military aid to Saudi Arabia, saying there's "no direct reporting linking the Saudi crown prince to the brutal killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October that set off global outrage. Although Pompeo's remarks were on expected lines, CIA Director Gina Haspel's absence became a sore point across the aisle; Haspel is the sole official in the trio that includes Mike Pompeo and James Mattis to have listened to the audio that allegedly depicts the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. Reporting by CBS suggests that Haspel was blocked by the White House from attending the hearing.
"What is the White House trying to hide?!" critics of the Trump government's response to the Khashoggi murder railed on Wednesday in reaction to Haspel's glaring absence.
Pompeo stuck to the weird Donald Trump playbook in Wednesday's Senate hearing. Trump's version of the Khashoggi murder has disputed that U.S. intelligence officials had concluded that the de facto leader of American ally Saudi Arabia ordered the killing of a U.S.-based journalist critical of the kingdom's royal family. Citing vehement denials by the crown prince and king that they were involved, Trump said "maybe the world should be held accountable because the world is a vicious place. The world is a very, very vicious place."
The divergence of the CIA and State Department on Khashoggi is not atypical. These two agencies have long had a complicated relationship. Diplomats and spies work together but are often chasing different ends; diplomats cultivate relationships and spies extract information. In the Trump-Mohammad bin Salman-Jared Kushner triage, extracting information is the last thing this White House wants.
American intelligence agencies have concluded that the crown prince ordered the killing in the Saudi Consulate in Turkey but Trump has spun the story into one that prioritises "America First" because there's "billions of dollars" and "jobs" for Americans at stake.
In what analysts are calling an "extraordinary" op-ed, published in the Wall Street Journal ahead of the Senate hearing, Pompeo accused lawmakers of "caterwauling" about Saudi Arabia's human-rights record and ignoring the kingdom's pivotal role in sidelining Iran.
"The Trump administration’s effort to rebuild the U.S.-Saudi Arabia Arabia partnership isn’t popular in the salons of Washington, where politicians of both parties have long used the kingdom’s human-rights record to call for the alliance’s downgrading," Pompeo wrote.
— CBS News (@CBSNews) November 28, 2018
"The suffering in Yemen grieves me, but if the United States of America was not involved in Yemen, it would be a hell of a lot worse," Pompeo said in prepared remarks released today.
In his own prepared remarks, Mattis said that "we must maintain our twin requirements of holding those responsible for the murder to account, while recognizing the reality of Saudi Arabia as a necessary strategic partner."
"We cannot be deflected from using all our influence to end this war for the good of innocent people in trouble, and ultimately the safety of our own people, and this includes our military engagement," Mattis said.
The White House issued a veto threat of a possible Senate resolution even as Pompeo and Mattis briefed the senators. A vote could happen later Wednesday but not certain.
Now that the Republicans have lost the House majority by a huge margin after the 2018 midterms, Trump is likely to lean even more on methods like veto and executive orders to bide the remaining time until the 2020 election season comes around - with primaries that begin early that year.
Updated Date: Nov 28, 2018 23:49:20 IST