On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was asked about Saudi Arabia’s culpability in the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as well as what response such culpability warrants, while at a press conference.
I mean, what obviously happened, [as] basically certified the CIA, is completely abhorrent [to] everything the United States holds dear and stands for in the world. So, some kind of response to that certainly would be in order, and we are discussing what the appropriate response should be.
It's always been kind of a pragmatic relationship regardless of who's been in the White House. We value their opposition to the Iranians, and I think almost no one believes we should completely and totally fracture our relationship to the Saudis – but yes, some kind of response is going to be appropriate and we're gonna continue to talk about that.
In mid-November, the CIA released a "high confidence" report alleging that Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman (MbS) most likely knew of the Khashoggi murder.
Among the evidence linking MbS to Khashoggi’s murder is an alleged phone call in which Saudi ambassador to the United States and brother to MbS, Khalid bin Salman, told Khashoggi to go to the consulate in Turkey, reports The Washington Post. Khalid "made the call at his brother’s direction, according to the people familiar with the call, which was intercepted by U.S. intelligence."
According to sources who spoke with The Washington Post, the CIA also believes that an operation, such as the one in which Jamal Khashoggi was killed, likely wouldn’t have happened without the Crown Prince’s knowledge.
Saudi officials, including the spokeswoman for the country’s U.S. embassy in Washington, Fatimah Baeshen, have pushed back against the allegations made against MbS and Saudi Arabia.
President Donald Trump has also noted that the CIA assessment isn’t a conclusion, but a high confidence report.
On Thursday, he stated in part:
Nobody’s concluded – I don’t know if anyone’s going to be able to conclude that the Crown Prince did it...
But whether he did or whether he didn’t, he denies it vehemently. His father denies it – the king – vehemently. The CIA doesn't say they did it. They do point out certain things. And in pointing out those things, can you conclude that maybe he did or maybe he didn't...
They said he might have done it. That's a big difference. But they are vehemently denying it...
And frankly, if we went by this standard, we wouldn't be able to have anybody as an ally. Because look at what happens all over the world. I dislike it more than you do. But the fact is, they have been a very strong ally.
The Trump administration has sanctioned 17 people believed to have been involved in Khashoggi’s murder, including high-ranking Saudi government officials Saud Al-Qahtani and Maher Mutreb.
According to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin:
The Saudi officials we are sanctioning were involved in the abhorrent killing of Jamal Khashoggi. These individuals who targeted and brutally killed a journalist who resided and worked in the United States must face consequences for their actions.
Mnuchin added that the United States "continues to diligently work to ascertain all of the facts and will hold accountable each of those we find responsible in order to achieve justice for Khashoggi’s fiancée, children, and the family he leaves behind."