Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez Reacts To Briefing On Killing Of Jamal Khashoggi
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
All right, let's bring in one of the senators who was at this classified briefing today, New Jersey's Robert Menendez. He is the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee. He's on the line now from his office on Capitol Hill. Senator Menendez, welcome back.
ROBERT MENENDEZ: Good to be with you.
KELLY: Now, I know you can't get into classified details of this classified briefing, but give me your top line. Having now heard from the CIA, is there any gray area, any room at all to doubt that the crown prince of Saudi Arabia ordered the killing of Jamal Khashoggi?
MENENDEZ: Well, before I went to this briefing, I was pretty much convinced that the crown prince had an intricate role, probably was the one who directed it at the end of the day. And all of those who were involved - this serves certainly under his universe of influence and leadership.
And so I am, after this briefing, resolute in that view and also resolute in the view that the United States Senate has to act to send a message to the Saudis and globally that you cannot kill with impunity and face no consequences.
KELLY: You and I spoke last week after that briefing with Secretary of State Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and you were really, really mad. You called it outrageous that Gina Haspel, the head of the CIA, hadn't already come to brief you and other senators. Did you get a straight answer today on what stopped her from testifying last week?
MENENDEZ: I don't really think I got a straight answer as to what stopped her from testifying last week. The answer I got I can't repeat. But I will say this much, that...
KELLY: You're saying you asked. She answered, but you can't share it publicly.
MENENDEZ: Right, right, right. And - but I will say this much - that the briefing I did get today, which I believe every member of the Senate deserved, not just the ranking and chairs of the National Security Committees - I believe every member of the Senate deserves it because it would be crystal-clear in their mind as to what transpired as it relates to the Khashoggi killing. And I do think that it was a honest and forthright briefing.
KELLY: That's kind of where you were last week in terms of your understanding of the facts such as we know them of the Khashoggi death. So how has her testimony now added to your understanding of events?
MENENDEZ: Well, without getting into the specifics, it's added to all of the dimensions of what we have believed and has been publicly reported. And the reality is - is that I leave with no doubt in my mind that the crown prince was probably the individual who directed the killing and that ultimately it was carried out by those associated with him. So that's - that should be enough for us to move forward in the Senate to send a clear and unequivocal message that that's just not acceptable.
KELLY: Well, then let's get into the details of what you want to do to move forward on this. As we just heard my colleague Tim Mak talking about, the Senate has voted to limit the U.S. role in the war in Yemen across the border from Saudi Arabia. I know you have introduced a bill that would sanction those involved with Khashoggi's death. Should those sanctions apply right at the top to the crown prince?
MENENDEZ: Yes. I believe that the reason that the Chairman Corker and I as the ranking member on the Foreign Relations Committee invoked the provisions of the global Magnitsky Law, which is a law that sanctions human rights violators, specifically asked for a determination on the crown prince. And I believe that that determination, if it came forth honestly - that those sanctions should take place as it relates to the crown prince and others as well.
KELLY: So you believe you have Republican support. We heard there from Senator Corker, Senator Graham, other Republicans.
MENENDEZ: I certainly hope so. And I hope that our legislation - that would make the global Magnitsky provisions mandatory as well as sanctions on those who are continuing to assist the Houthis and those who are stopping humanitarian assistance in the war on Yemen. They're all powerful opportunities to send a very clear message that we want to end the war in Yemen and that we will not accept the killings of individuals and journalists with impunity without consequence.
KELLY: And briefly in the moments we have left, to your move to sanction those involved with the death, including the crown prince, do you anticipate resistance from the president and his administration?
MENENDEZ: Probably, probably, but this is a moment of - we need moral clarity here. I can understand interests, but if you send a message globally beyond Saudi Arabia that in fact you can kill with impunity and there's no real consequence to it, then that is a path I don't think the United States wants to be a part of. And it undermines the global international order that I think is critical to maintain peace and security in the world.
KELLY: That's Democrat Robert Menendez of New Jersey. Senator, thank you.
MENENDEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.