Prior to the Senate vote, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held a closed-door meeting with senators to defend the U.S. backing of the Saudi war in Yemen. Mattis and Pompeo also briefed senators on the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi last month inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. The officials doubled down on the idea that there was no direct evidence tying Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Khashoggi’s murder. Defense Secretary James Mattis spoke with reporters.
Defense Secretary James Mattis: “We have no smoking gun that the crown prince was involved, not the intelligence community or anyone else. There is no smoking gun.”
Reporter: “Have you listened to the tape?”
Defense Secretary James Mattis: “No, I cannot understand that language, but I have spent more than enough time in service of our country. I know what grim circumstances can be. I needed to see what was said, and I read the translations of what is alleged to be the tape. We do not have the tapes. We do not have the tapes. At least I’m not aware that we do.”
Mattis’s remarks come one day after national security adviser John Bolton told reporters he did not plan to listen to the tape of Khashoggi’s murder because he doesn’t understand Arabic. President Trump has also said he won’t listen to the tape, calling it a “suffering tape.” CIA Director Gina Haspel has heard the tape but was reportedly blocked from briefing senators by the White House. The CIA has concluded with “high confidence” that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is directly implicated in ordering Khashoggi’s murder. A number of senators called out Haspel’s absence. Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina—a longtime time Saudi and Trump ally—said, “This is BS. I want the CIA to come brief me.” He threatened to abstain from any key votes until senators receive a CIA briefing on Khashoggi’s murder.