Republican leaders in Congress are taking a cautious approach in their response to mounting evidence that the Saudi royal family is linked to the suspected death of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Overnight Health Care — Presented by Purdue Pharma — Trump officials ratchet up fight over drug pricing | McConnell says Republicans could try again on ObamaCare repeal | Dems go on offense against GOP lawsuit Republicans should prepare for Nancy Pelosi to wield the gavel MORE (R-Ky.) and Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Republicans should prepare for Nancy Pelosi to wield the gavel Ryan signals support for sanctions if Saudis killed Khashoggi MORE (R-Wis.) said they will wait on the results of an investigation by the Trump administration into Khashoggi’s disappearance, a process that could take weeks or months.
Troubling new details emerged Wednesday when an unnamed Turkish official told media outlets that Khashoggi’s fingers were severed before he was dismembered and killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
The official told reporters that Saudi consul Mohammed al-Otaibi was heard speaking on a taped recording of Khashoggi’s detention and subsequent execution that Khashoggi allegedly recorded on a smart watch and transmitted to locations outside the consulate as the incident unfolded.
GOP leaders are in a difficult position because they don’t want to pick a fight with President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump renews attacks against Tester over VA nominee on eve of Montana rally Trump submits 2017 federal income tax returns Corker: Trump administration ‘clamped down’ on Saudi intel, canceled briefing MORE over his Middle East policy, into which Saudi Arabia figures prominently, less than three weeks from the Nov. 6 midterm elections.
Trump has repeatedly deflected questions about the Saudi royal family’s involvement in Khashoggi’s disappearance, despite reports that one of the suspects is a close companion of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who’s considered the day-to-day leader of Saudi Arabia. Other suspects are said by witnesses to be part of the crown prince’s security detail.
Trump on Tuesday compared what he called the rush to judgement against Saudi Arabia to the allegations leveled last month against Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughProtesters confront Cruz at airport over Kavanaugh vote Trump renews attacks against Tester over VA nominee on eve of Montana rally Corker: Trump administration ‘clamped down’ on Saudi intel, canceled briefing MORE during his confirmation process in the Senate.
Still, the administration appears to have responded to some of the pressure coming from lawmakers and elsewhere.
The president dispatched Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: Trump asks Turkey for evidence on missing journalist | Key Dem calls for international probe | Five things to know about ‘MBS’ | Air Force struggles to determine cost of hurricane damage to F-22 jets GOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Washington Post to publish special Opinion page with new Khashoggi column MORE to Saudi Arabia at the start of the week to meet with the Saudi royal family to find out what they knew about the incident.
Trump spoke by phone for 20 minutes with Saudi King Salman on Monday, and on the following day he talked with the crown prince while he was meeting with Pompeo.
Trump suggested after speaking with the king that “rogue killers” may have been responsible for Khashoggi’s death and tweeted Tuesday that the crown prince “totally denied any knowledge of what took place in their consulate.”
GOP leaders have been reluctant to clash with Trump during an election year, knowing that polls show he remains tremendously popular with the party’s base.
But some members of their conferences — Sens. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia On The Money: Treasury official charged with leaking info on ex-Trump advisers | Trump to seek 5 percent budget cut from Cabinet members | Mnuchin to decide by Thursday on attending Saudi conference Mnuchin to decide by Thursday whether to attend Saudi conference MORE (Fla.), a prominent member of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Election Countdown: O’Rourke goes on the attack | Takeaways from fiery second Texas Senate debate | Heitkamp apologizes for ad misidentifying abuse victims | Trump Jr. to rally for Manchin challenger | Rick Scott leaves trail to deal with hurricane damage Five things to know about ‘MBS,’ Saudi Arabia’s crown prince MORE (S.C.), one of Trump’s closest allies and chairman of the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee — are pressing for Congress to act independently.
Others are cautioning against taking precipitous action that could undercut relations with Saudi Arabia, a pillar of Trump’s Middle East policy.
Senior White House adviser Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerMueller assembles team of cooperators in Russian probe Secret Service: Agent who blocked reporter questioning Kushner reacted to ‘abrupt movement’ Kushner and Saudi crown prince communicated informally on WhatsApp: report MORE, the president’s son-in-law, has cultivated a relationship with the crown prince, a rising political power in the Saudi royal family.
“I’m open to having Congress sit down with the president, if this all turns out to be true, and it looks like it is … and saying how can we express our condemnation without blowing up the Middle East,” Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) told reporters on Capitol Hill Wednesday.
Any action in the Senate would have to go through Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCorker: Trump administration ‘clamped down’ on Saudi intel, canceled briefing GOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Poll: GOP’s Blackburn holds slim lead in Tennessee Senate race MORE (R-Tenn.), who has kept a low profile on the controversy since last week.
Senate GOP sources said they were not aware of any recent conversations between Corker and McConnell on the issue.
McConnell told reporters on Wednesday that he would not move forward on anything until the administration, led by Pompeo, completes an investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance.
The Kentucky Republican told television news outlets invited to a roundtable interview that he couldn’t imagine Congress not responding if senior Saudi officials are found to have killed Khashoggi, but cautioned that nothing will happen until he hears from Pompeo.
“I want to hear what Mike has to say before I decide what I think we ought to do,” he said, according to NBC News, which attended the event.
His GOP colleagues also said Pompeo should take the lead.
“Listen, we have a tremendous relationship with the Saudis. They’re important to us. We’re important to them,” Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Congress should work with Trump and not ‘cowboy’ on Saudi Arabia, says GOP senator US to open trade talks with Japan, EU, UK MORE (Utah), the most senior member of the Senate GOP conference, told reporters Wednesday.
“But we have to be honest and watch these things very carefully and move in a correct and honest way,” he added. “So I think our administration is doing that, so let’s hope that that’s the case.”
A Senate Republican aide said the main response from Congress for now is the letter Corker and other members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee sent to Trump last week triggering the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which gives the administration 120 days to investigate and report its findings to Capitol Hill.
If that investigation finds that senior Saudi officials killed or tortured Khashoggi, the law empowers the administration to implement targeted sanctions on those individuals responsible.
“The immediate response was the letter last week,” said the aide, who was not aware of any other imminent action.
A second Senate Republican aide said members of the Foreign Relations Committee have been in touch with the State Department to find out more details about the ongoing investigation but haven’t received much information.
Ryan, in a Wednesday interview with “CBS This Morning,” said he was open to sanctions but indicated that any action from Congress would come under the auspices of the Magnitsky Act.
“We have sanction laws on the book for situations like this. So I think these are the things we will be looking at in Congress,” Ryan said in his first extended comments about the Saudi crisis.
“I’ve got to say this was supposed to be a new Saudi government that was going to be reforming, opening up transparency, moderating Islam,” he added. “And to see something like this could be a real setback.”
A congressional aide told The Hill that Ryan “is focused on the Magnitsky Act.”
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed RoyceEdward (Ed) Randall RoyceGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Election Countdown: O’Rourke goes on the attack | Takeaways from fiery second Texas Senate debate | Heitkamp apologizes for ad misidentifying abuse victims | Trump Jr. to rally for Manchin challenger | Rick Scott leaves trail to deal with hurricane damage Saudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP MORE (R-Calif.) and Rep. Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Saudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP Five changes Democrats will seek at Pentagon if they win power MORE (N.Y.), the panel’s top-ranking Democrat, sent a letter to the president Friday supporting the Senate’s action.
Democratic Rep. Lloyd DoggettLloyd Alton DoggettGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Trump tax story prompts calls to revise estate rules Trump gained millions from questionable tax strategies: New York Times MORE (Texas) and Republican Rep. Walter JonesWalter Beaman JonesGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia The Hill’s 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — Kavanaugh accuser Ford offers gripping testimony | Sights and sounds from Capitol | Hearing grips Washington Overnight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — Trump caps UN visit with wild presser | Accuses China of election meddling | Pentagon spending bill clears House | Hawks cheer bill | Lawmakers introduce resolution to force Yemen vote MORE (N.C.) are co-leading a letter calling for a full investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance and calling for sanctions against individuals responsible for his suspected death in accordance with the Magnitsky Act.
Separately, Rep. Bonnie Watson ColemanBonnie Watson ColemanGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Hillicon Valley: Sanders finds perfect target in Amazon | Cyberattacks are new fear 17 years after 9/11 | Firm outs alleged British Airways hackers | Trump to target election interference with sanctions | Apple creating portal for police data requests Cyberattacks are a constant fear 17 years after 9/11 MORE (D-N.J.) sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia On The Money: Treasury official charged with leaking info on ex-Trump advisers | Trump to seek 5 percent budget cut from Cabinet members | Mnuchin to decide by Thursday on attending Saudi conference Mnuchin to decide by Thursday whether to attend Saudi conference MORE on Wednesday urging him to skip a major finance conference being hosted in Riyadh next week.
That letter has been signed by at least 11 Democrats, including Reps. Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Dems damp down hopes for climate change agenda Marijuana and the midterms MORE (Ore.), Yvette ClarkeYvette Diane ClarkeGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia House lawmakers introduce bill to end US support in Yemen civil war Poll shows Rep. Luis Gutiérrez as front-runner in Chicago mayoral race MORE (N.Y.), Raul Grijalva (Ariz.), Alcee HastingsAlcee (Judge) Lamar HastingsGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia House passes bill outlawing the eating of cats and dogs Video shows Dem lawmaker joking about Trump drowning MORE (Fla.), Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Silicon Valley tested by Saudi crisis Overnight Defense — Presented by The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates — Senators seek US intel on journalist’s disappearance | Army discharged over 500 immigrant recruits in one year | Watchdog knocks admiral over handling of sexual harassment case MORE (Calif.), Jim McGovern (Mass.), Frank Pallone (N.J.), Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Clinical trials are a lifeline for women with gynecologic cancers Reporter tops lawmakers to win charity spelling bee MORE (Md.) and Filemon VelaFilemon Bartolome VelaGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia For everyone’s safety, border agents must use body-worn cameras Progressives’ wins highlight divide in Democratic Party MORE (Texas).
“Considering the seriousness of the accused crimes, we must request and review the details surrounding the incident before moving forward in our bilateral relationship with the Saudi government,” Coleman wrote. “Pending a thorough investigation that provides truthful answers to Mr. Khashoggi’s whereabouts, I encourage you to suspend any trips and meetings with Saudi officials.”
A slew of companies such as Google, Uber, JPMorgan Chase and Ford have pulled out of the conference following the controversy surrounding Khashoggi’s disappearance after walking into the Saudi consulate on Oct. 2.
Rubio has been one of the most outspoken proponents of congress acting independently of Trump if necessary.
He told CNN on Tuesday that Congress would “act in a bipartisan way.”
He didn’t make any additional statements on Wednesday, and a Republican source familiar with Rubio’s schedule said he has been focused on responding to the devastation caused by Hurricane Michael in Florida’s panhandle last week.
A spokesman for Graham, who said Tuesday that he wanted to “sanction the hell out of Saudi Arabia,” did not have anything to add on Wednesday regarding the senator’s position.
Graham, however, has been in conversation with Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Dem senator: Trump accepts Saudi denials because he is ‘enamored’ with dictators Saudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP MORE (Md.), a senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, about moving forward with a bipartisan proposal on U.S.-Saudi policy.
Cardin, speaking on a press call Wednesday, described the discussions as “active.”
Scott Wong contributed.