After a closed-door briefing with senators Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo once again defended the Trump administration’s response to the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, saying there is “no direct reporting” connecting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the killing.
But ultimately the closed door session appears to have backfired, as lingering frustrations from the briefing provoked a backlash from lawmakers who voted 63-37 to advance a resolution opposed by the administration to cut US support to the Saudis in Yemen.
Senators from both parties seemed furious, including one of President Donald Trump’s most vocal allies in the Senate — South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham who said he was “pissed”.
Pompeo and Defense Secretary James Mattis traveled to Capitol Hill for a briefing with Senate lawmakers on Yemen where they emphasized the strategic importance of the US-Saudi relationship and defended the administration’s response to the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
At least in part, the briefing was designed to push back against the resolution, which the Trump administration opposes.
But hours after the session, the Senate voted to advance the resolution ending US support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen out of committee.
While the bill may still be reshaped by amendments or input from the administration, the vote illustrates the level of congressional discontent over Wednesday’s hearing.
Graham, who said he was not satisfied by Pompeo and Mattis’ testimony, told reporters that he switched his vote on the Yemen resolution because he’s “pissed.”
“I changed my mind because I’m pissed,” Graham said. He continued to blast the administration’s handling of the Khashoggi situation. “The way the administration has handled it is not acceptable.”
He said he spoke to the White House Wednesday about his concerns. “I said, listen, it’s pretty obvious to me that we’re a co-equal branch, you’ve made your assessments about what the intelligence shows, I’d like to make my own. The only way I can make that assessment is to be briefed. If it is credible that the crown prince was complicit, then I will take action consistent with that.”
Those actions, he indicated, would include suspending arm sales and support of the war in Yemen.