WASHINGTON – Central Intelligence Agency Director Gina Haspel will brief Senate leaders Tuesday on what the spy agency knows about Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s death at the hands of Saudi operatives, people familiar with the matter said.
Haspel’s planned briefing follows criticism that the Trump administration received from several lawmakers last week after she failed to join an earlier briefing on Saudi policy conducted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
According to a highly classified CIA assessment, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sent at least 11 messages to his closest adviser, who oversaw the team that killed Khashoggi, in the hours before and after the journalist’s death Oct. 2, The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday.
The Saudi government has denied Prince Mohammed had any role in the killing.
Haspel is expected to brief the leadership of the Senate Foreign Relations and Senate Armed Services Committees, one of the people familiar with the matter said.
Bipartisan opposition to President Trump’s Saudi policy is increasing among United States lawmakers, who are angered by civilian casualties in Yemen caused by Saudi-led airstrikes and by the death of Khashoggi, a US resident and Washington Post columnist.
The US military provides Saudi Arabia with intelligence and other support in its ongoing war in Yemen.
The Senate last Wednesday voted to advance a measure to withdraw US support for Saudi-led forces in Yemen, defying Pompeo and Mattis who just hours earlier had urged the lawmakers to do the opposite.
Some senators voiced outrage that Haspel didn’t attend the session with Pompeo and Mattis. Sen. Lindsey Graham threatened to hold up action on legislation until he received a CIA briefing.
“I am not going to blow past this,” said Graham, a South Carolina Republican. “Anything that you need me for to get out of town -- I ain’t doing it until we hear from the CIA.”
Haspel is the only top Trump administration official believed to have heard audio recordings from inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, that document Khashoggi’s death.
The CIA chief traveled to Turkey, where she listened to the tapes and briefed Trump upon her return.
The CIA assessment says the agency has “medium-to-high confidence” that Prince Mohammed targeted Khashoggi and “probably ordered his death.”
It cites his personal focus on Khashoggi; his high level of control over the Saudi operators who conducted the killing; and the fact that he authorized those same operators to violently target other opponents.
The assessment cautions, however, that “we lack direct reporting of the crown prince issuing a kill order.”
Shortly after appearing on Capitol Hill last week, Mattis told reporters: “We have no smoking gun that the crown prince was involved. Not the intelligence community or anyone else.”
Since being named CIA director in May, Haspel has shunned the public eye and has spoken publicly only once in that time – to her alma mater University of Louisville in Kentucky.
But she is familiar with the Middle East. According to a biography provided by the CIA, Haspel, a career agency officer, speaks Turkish.