CIA chief Gina Haspel briefs House members on Khashoggi murder

Kushner, the Saudis and Khashoggi

Reporting by Olivia Gazis and Rebecca Kaplan. 

A small group of Republican and Democratic House members received a briefing Wednesday by CIA Director Gina Haspel on U.S. military assistance to the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen's bloody civil war, as well as the brutal assassination of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. 

After the briefing, Rep. Eliot Engel, D-New York, who is poised to become chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in January, was asked by reporters if he had any doubt that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was behind Khashoggi's killing. 

"I think it's not looking too good right now, but we'll see," Engel replied. 

Apart from Engel, the members of Congress invited to the classified meeting included Speaker Paul Ryan; Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy; Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi; Minority Whip Steny Hoyer; the chairman and ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes and Rep. Adam Schiff; the chairman and ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Mac Thurnberry and Rep. Adam Smith; Appropriations Committee ranking member Rep. Nita Lowey; and Rep. Hal Rogers, chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations. 

Haspel held a similar closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill last week with a handful of senators after facing criticism for her absence in an earlier briefing on U.S-Saudi relations led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense James Mattis. Upon leaving last week's meeting with the CIA chief, senators from both parties said they were confident the heir to the Saudi throne ordered Khashoggi's murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey in October. 

"There's not a smoking gun — there's a smoking saw," Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham told reporters after the briefing. 

President Trump has repeatedly defended the Saudi government in the wake of Khashoggi's killing. In November, the president said bin Salman may have had no knowledge of the killing and that the strong American military and economic alliance with Saudi Arabia should not be jeopardized as a result of Khashoggi's murder. 

During an interview with Reuters on Tuesday, Mr. Trump again brushed off bipartisan criticism that he's been too lenient on the crown prince. "He's the leader of Saudi Arabia. They've been a very good ally," the president said.

Pompeo told "Fox and Friends" Tuesday before the briefing that Khashoggi's murder "was heinous," and "it was not something America approves of," and the U.S. will "continue to develop the facts." Asked to respond to the CIA's assessment that the crown prince, known as MBS, ordered Khashoggi's murder, Pompeo said, "Some of the reporting you've seen on that has been inaccurate." But pressed further, he declined to say directly that reports of that assessment were "inaccurate." "They're still working on this. This is a developing set of facts with respect to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi," he said. 

But the secretary also reiterated the president's point. "America has an important ally in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia," he said. "They work with us on issues that provide security for America and for Israel. It is an important relationship with the kingdom." 

Pompeo also said on Fox that he has spoken to the crown prince "a number of times since the murder of Jamal Khashoggi," adding, "It is absolutely America's intent to hold everyone accountable who was responsible for this."

The CIA has assessed that MBS directly ordered Khashoggi's killing, based mainly on an understanding of how the kingdom operates and the proximity of several members of the team involved to the prince, officials told CBS News.  

Editor's note: An earlier version of this report incorrectly said that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary James Mattis briefed some House members Wednesday.