Lindsey Graham Slams Khashoggi Verdict As Woodward Reveals Trump Boast He Saved MBS

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham has condemned Saudi Arabia for the apparent whitewash trial over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, verdicts for which were announced this week.

A Saudi court jailed eight people, none of whom were named, for between seven and 20 years for the murder. Human rights organizations have criticized the court for failing to punish the senior regime officials believed to have masterminded the assassination at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Graham—a critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the heir to the throne and widely seen as the man wielding power behind his elderly father King Salman—tweeted Thursday: "I am deeply disappointed about the lack of transparency in the trials of eight unnamed individuals in Saudi Arabia for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a permanent resident of the U.S."

"More is unknown about these trials than is known," he added. "These actions give sham trials a bad name. This gruesome episode is not exactly the change one was hoping for when it comes to Saudi Arabia's behavior."

Khashoggi's murder—asphyxiation by a 15-man hit squad that flew into Turkey hours before the killing—appalled the world, though MBS and the Saudi royals have largely escaped consequences.

The murder appears to be part of a wider campaign by MBS to silence dissidents, and other critics abroad figures have been threatened or escaped assassination attempts. MBS is accused of sending a hit squad to kill former intelligence official Saad al-Jabri in Canada less than two weeks after Khashoggi was killed, for example.

"I strongly believe that my criticism of these trials is widely shared by members of the Senate in both parties," Graham wrote. "Two years later, we still don't have Mr. Khashoggi's remains or any sort of justice."

Immediately after the murder, the Senate voted to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led war against Houthi rebels in Yemen, which has been headed by MBS as the country's defense minister. Trump later vetoed the move.

MBS has been accused of directly ordering Khashoggi's murder. The Washington Post columnist and U.S. resident was a prominent critic of MBS, and had been living in self-imposed exile despite the crown prince's efforts to lure him home.

Trump has dismissed concerns that MBS may have been directly involved. In interviews with legendary journalist Bob Woodward for his next book Rage, Trump said of MBS: "He says very strongly that he didn't do it."

The president also bragged that he protected MBS from international outrage in the weeks and months after Khashoggi was killed. "I saved his ass," Trump said in a 2018 interview with Woodward. "I was able to get Congress to leave him alone."

The CIA concluded that MBS gave the order for the assassination, partially because of an intercepted message between the head of the kill team—named by the CIA as Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb—and top MBS aide Saud al-Qahtani. Mutreb said to "tell your boss" that the mission had been accomplished.

The CIA understood the "boss" to be MBS, citing at least 11 contacts between the crown prince and Qahtani in the hours before and after the assassination as evidence.

The New York Times reported on other intercepted conversations between MBS and top advisers before Khashoggi's death, showing he wanted the dissident writer either under his control or dead.

MBS told Qahtani and another aide, Turki Aldakhil, that Khashoggi should return to Saudi Arabia and end his criticism of the royal family or face "a bullet." Warned such a move could spark international uproar, MBS said he needn't worry about global opinion.

Donald Trump, MBS, Saudi Arabia, Graham, Khashoggi
President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman take their places for a family photo during the G20 Leaders' Summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina on November 30, 2018. SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images/Getty