Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Tuesday that “everything today points to” the idea that Saudi journalist and legal U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi was murdered last week inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Corker told The Daily Beast that his view was reaffirmed after viewing classified intelligence about the disappearance of Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributor and fierce critic of the Saudi government, from inside a secure area of the Capitol.
“It points to the idea that whatever has happened to him, the Saudis—I mean, they’ve got some explaining to do,” Corker told The Daily Beast.
Khashoggi’s disappearance after entering the Saudi consulate a week ago has captivated Washington and the world as lawmakers, the Post, and top U.S. and foreign officials press for answers. Corker, an outspoken critic of Saudi Arabia, said he spoke recently with the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., who told him that the surveillance video outside the consulate only live-streams and does not record.
“I’ve never ever heard of a security system like that,” Corker added. “That was pretty hard for me to believe. And I shared that with him. And he said, ‘well, it was malfunctioning and it was only live-streaming.’ And so to me it feels very much like some nefarious activity has occurred by them. But I don’t want to rush to judgment. They need to figure out a way if it’s not true to … show that he left the embassy after coming in.”
While the Post obtained a screenshot that appears to show Khashoggi walking into the consulate last Tuesday, Saudi officials have denied reports of his death, and assert that he left the consulate later that day. But they have not provided any evidence to back up that claim. Khashoggi traveled to the consulate in order to obtain marriage-related documents.
Corker warned that a congressional response to the alleged killing would be “tangible,” adding: “Our relations with Saudi Arabia, at least from the Senate standpoint, are the lowest ever. It’s never been this low.”
Some lawmakers have been critical of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman lately and his attempts to portray his vision as progressive and reformative. They have urged President Donald Trump to get tougher on the country in light of its support for Yemen’s government, which is engaged in a bloody civil war with Iran-backed Houthi rebels. Trump visited Riyadh last May in his first foreign trip as president, and has since talked up his close relationship with the crown prince.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) sent a letter to Trump on Tuesday urging him to “personally raise the issue” of Khashoggi’s disappearance with the Saudi and Turkish governments. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has appealed directly to the Saudi ambassador, Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz.
In a statement earlier Tuesday, Fred Ryan, the Post’s CEO and publisher, said the newspaper has “repeatedly asked the Saudi and Turkish governments for information about Jamal and his whereabouts but have not received any satisfactory answers.”
Ryan added: “Instead, reports about Jamal’s fate have suggested he was the victim of state-sponsored, cold-blooded murder.”
Trump said on Tuesday he knows “nothing” about Khashoggi’s disappearance, but vowed to raise the issue with Saudi officials.