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Congressional leaders reject Saudi’s story on journalist’s death

Jamal Khashoggi is seen on a video screen. Saudi Arabia acknowledged that the 59-year-old writer died in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.AP

Republican Senator Bob Corker and other Congressional leaders said they don’t believe the explanation from Saudi Arabia that a fistfight led to the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and that if Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was behind the killing, the U.S. must impose sanctions.

“If he directed it, we need to put the same types of sanctions in place that we’ve done with other people who’ve done the same thing,” Corker, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “Collectively, we’ve got to deal with this in an appropriate way.’’

Reversing earlier denials of involvement in Khashoggi’s disappearance on Oct. 2, Saudi authorities said Saturday that an initial probe showed that the Washington Post contributor was killed after “discussions” at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul turned violent.

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That account conflicts with reports by Turkish officials that a Saudi “hit team” flew in specifically to kill and then dismember Khashoggi, and a New York Times report that some members of the group had close ties to the crown prince.

President Donald Trump, after initially calling the Saudi moves a “good first step” and saying “I think we’re getting close to solving a very big problem,” said later Saturday that it’s a concern that Saudi officials haven’t specified where Khashoggi’s body is.

Bipartisan members of Congress took to the Sunday morning political shows to say the Saudi story lacks credibility, and that they think the crown prince was likely behind Khashoggi’s death.

Trump is banking on the Saudis to buy billions in U.S. weapons, keep oil flowing to global markets after Iranian sanctions hit next month, and support a long-awaited Middle East peace plan.

But Representative Adam Schiff of California, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said the situation should be a “relationship-altering event for the United States and Saudi Arabia,” even though he expects Trump to ultimately accept Saudi denials that the crown prince was directly involved.

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“We ought to suspend military sales, we ought to suspend certain security assistance, and we ought to impose sanctions on any of those that were directly involved in this murder,” Schiff said on ABC’s “This week.”

“This really ought to be something that causes us to do a reexamination of our relationship with Saudi Arabia,” Schiff added.

Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky said “it’s insulting to anyone who’s analyzing this with any kind of intelligent background to think that, ‘Oh, a fistfight led to a dismemberment with a bone saw,’ ” a reference to the news reports that one of Saudis who went to the consulate brought the instrument.

“It stretches credulity to think the crown prince wasn’t involved in this,” Paul said on “Fox News Sunday.”