Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a bipartisan group of senior US senators have alleged after the CIA director gave them a classified briefing on the grisly murder inside the Gulf kingdom's diplomatic mission shocked the world.
Khashoggi, a US resident, was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on October 2. After initially denying the murder, Riyadh has acknowledged that Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate but blamed his death on a "rogue" operation. The Saudis have charged 11 people in the case.
Top officials from the administration of President Donald Trump have said they have seen no direct evidence linking the murder of the 59-year-old journalist to Mohammed, but the CIA reportedly has found a link, US media reported.
The spy agency has evidence he exchanged messages with Saud al-Qahtani, who allegedly oversaw Khashoggi's murder when he went to the consulate to obtain paperwork for his upcoming marriage. Haspel, who has reportedly heard an audio recording of the murder, has briefed President Trump about it last month.
"I think he's complicit in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi to the highest level possible," Graham said.
"There's not a smoking gun, there's a smoking saw," said Graham, referring to reports that the Saudi team had included a forensic expert who arrived in Istanbul with equipment to dismember Khashoggi's body.
Senator Richard Shelby, Republican of Alabama and the Appropriations Committee Chairman, echoed that "all evidence points to that, that all this leads back to the crown prince."
"This is conduct that none of us in America would approve of in any way," Shelby said.
Another senator, Bob Corker, told reporters, using the crown prince's initials: "I have zero question on my mind that the crown prince MBS ordered the killing."
The Tennessee Republican added: "If he was in front of a jury, he would be convicted in 30 minutes. Guilty."
Corker suggested that President Donald Trump had condoned the murder of a journalist by refusing to condemn the Saudi crown prince.
The clear and unusually biting assessment put Republican senators at odds with the White House, which has steadfastly refused to cast blame on Saudi Arabia's leadership for the grisly death of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, the New York Times reported.
President Trump has said the CIA findings on the crown prince were not conclusive.
On November 20, he said: "It could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event - maybe he did and maybe he didn't."
Khashoggi's killing prompted international outrage over Saudi Arabia's heavy-handed tactics and renewed attention to the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
Senators were eager to hear directly from Haspel about what officials have described as the CIA's conclusion that Prince Mohammed had ordered Khashoggi's killing, the Times said.
The intelligence agency is also believed to have evidence that the crown prince communicated repeatedly with an aide who commanded the team that assassinated Khashoggi, around the time of the journalist's death in October.
Yet lawmakers remained divided over what steps to take next, after a stinging vote last week to consider a measure cutting off American military aid to Saudi Arabia's bombing campaign, the Times said.
Senator Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, echoed those views.
He said the US must "send a clear and unequivocal message that such actions are not acceptable in the world's stage".
Senator Chris Murphy, who was not privy to Tuesday's briefing, criticised the Trump administration.
"Not everything needs to be secret," the Connecticut Democrat tweeted.
"If our government knows that Saudi leaders were involved in the murder of a US resident, why shouldn't the public know this?" he said.
Indeed, after Haspel's briefing, the groundswell of certainty and disgust will likely complicate the Trump administration's efforts to protect the prince and its relationship with Saudi Arabia, even as lawmakers have yet to coalesce around a legislative response, CNN reported.
Among the options: pull back from US involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen; deny any arms sales with Saudi Arabia; slap the crown prince with sanctions, along with a resolution saying the Senate finds him complicit in murder, it said.
How the legislative push gets resolved is uncertain, but the floor fight could begin as soon as Monday -- and put the Trump administration on the defensive, the network commented.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)