CIA Director Gina Haspel briefed House leaders on Wednesday about the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey, as the Senate prepares for a possible vote on two measures that would admonish Saudi Arabia for its role in the slaying.
The closed-door meeting, which was attended by House Speaker Paul Ryan and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi among others, comes a day before Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis are to brief the full House on the killing.
Pompeo and Mattis briefed the Senate last month and told senators there was "no direct reporting" and "no smoking gun" to connect Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman to Khashoggi's death at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. But a smaller group of senators leaving a separate briefing with Haspel days later said there was "zero chance" the crown prince wasn't involved.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate could vote as soon as Wednesday on a resolution calling on the U.S. to pull assistance from the Saudi-led war in Yemen, a measure that gained momentum after Khashoggi's death. While a handful of Republicans support the resolution, which was sponsored by Republican Sen. Mike Lee and independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, McConnell and most other Republicans oppose it.
"I think every single member of this body shares grave concerns about the murder of Khashoggi and wants accountability," McConnell said. "We also want to preserve a 70-year partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia, and we want to ensure it continues to serve American interests and stabilizes a dangerous and critical region."
Human rights groups say the war in Yemen is wreaking havoc on the country and subjecting civilians to indiscriminate bombing. Sanders tweeted that "we must finally end US involvement in this humanitarian and strategic disaster."
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, is preparing a separate resolution condemning the activist's killing. McConnell urged senators to vote for Corker's measure, which he said "does a good job capturing bipartisan concerns about both the war in Yemen and the behavior of our Saudi partners more broadly." Corker has not released the full text of that resolution.
Senators have been enraged over Khashoggi's killing in October and over President Trump's equivocating on who is to blame. Pressed on a response to Saudi Arabia, the president has said the United States "intends to remain a steadfast partner" of the country, touted Saudi arms deals worth billions of dollars to the U.S. and thanked the country for plunging oil prices.
Pompeo on Wednesday was questioned by the hosts of “Fox & Friends” on the killing but would not answer directly regarding the culpability of the Saudi crown prince.
“The kingdom of Saudi Arabia decides who is running the country,” Pompeo said. “I think this is what the president said yesterday. We are working closely with the kingdom to make sure that America is protected. That’s our interest there."
Pompeo called into question reporting about the CIA’s “high confidence" about the Saudi crown prince's role in Khashoggi's murder. Pompeo previously led the CIA.
“Some of the reporting that you have seen on that has been inaccurate,” Pompeo said.
Khashoggi, who had lived in the U.S. and wrote for The Washington Post, had been critical of the Saudi regime. He was killed in what U.S. officials have described as an elaborate plot as he visited a consulate in Istanbul for marriage paperwork.
Saudi prosecutors have said a 15-man team sent to Istanbul killed Khashoggi with tranquilizers and then dismembered his body, which has not been found. Those findings came after Saudi authorities spent days denying Khashoggi had been killed in the consulate.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.