Top Republican slams Trump's 'clampdown' on intelligence about missing journalist Khashoggi and calls on him to take a stand

  • Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker said Thursday that the Trump administration must end its “clampdown” on intelligence about the alleged torture and murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by the Saudis.
  • Corker said a White House official this week prevented him from viewing recent intelligence related to Khashoggi’s disappearance.
  • A bipartisan group of senators has called on the president to impose economic sanctions and suspend some arms sales to the oil-rich Middle Eastern nation.

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker said Thursday that the Trump administration must end its “clampdown” on intelligence about the alleged torture and murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by the Saudis.

Corker, a Tennessee Republican who is retiring from office this year, told Politico on Thursday that he was prevented by a White House official this week from viewing recent intelligence related to Khashoggi’s disappearance from the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on October 2. He said that he and other lawmakers have only been provided with week-old information.

And Corker argued that the president will need to take a public stand on whether Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman – who Trump has worked closely with – is to blame for Khashoggi’s apparent murder.

“This is going to come to a head in a very short amount of time. This isn’t getting better over time. It seems to me over the next week or so people are going to know more about what happened,” Corker said.

He went on, “I don’t think the administration can allow this to squirrel around too much longer without taking a definitive position.”

Trump on Thursday said it “looks” like Khashoggi is dead, but has refused to lay blame on any party, and has instead spent the last several days defending the Saudis.

“I think we’ll be making a statement, a very strong statement,” Trump said. “We’re waiting for the results of about three different investigations and we should be able to get to the bottom fairly soon.”

Senate lawmakers, including some Republicans, are pushing back on Trump’s posture, urging the president to impose economic sanctions and suspend some arms sales to the oil-rich Middle Eastern nation.

Sen. Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican, said this week that the president should consider cancelling some arms deals, while Sen. Lindsey Graham during a Fox News interview on Tuesday called bin Salman a “wrecking ball” and urged Trump to “sanction the hell out of” the Saudi government.

Graham added that he believes Saudi leaders ordered Khashoggi’s murder and said he felt “used and abused” by the country’s government, which he has actively supported in the Senate.

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy on Wednesday told Business Insider that President Donald Trump’s overall response to Khashhoggi’s alleged murder and subservient behaviour toward Saudi Arabia has made the US look “weaker” than ever.

“It seems like the Saudis are the dominant partner in this relationship, which is absolutely ridiculous,” said Murphy, a key Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “I don’t know that our country has looked weaker than in the last week.”

This comes amid growing evidence – including audio recordings released by the Turkish media– that a delegation of Saudi officials tortured, killed, and dismembered Khashoggi with a bone saw.

Trump has resisted intensifying calls to condemn the regime and instead defended Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from the charges and emphasised that Khashoggi – a Virginia resident – isn’t a US citizen.

The president has stressed the importance of the US’s financial ties with Saudi Arabia, calling the Middle Eastern nation an “important ally,” while citing tens of billions of dollars in US-Saudi arms deals. (Other US presidents, including Barack Obama, have also continued arms sales to governments with poor records on human rights).

John Haltiwanger contributed to this report.

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