Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., long one of Saudi Arabia’s most vocal defenders in Congress, said Tuesday that the kingdom’s nearly all-powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has “got to go” and vowed never to return to the country as long as the young leader remains in power. Graham also pledged to impose sanctions.
Later Tuesday, the influential member of the Senate Armed Services Committee said he favored suspending U.S. weapons sales to the country.
“This guy is a wrecking ball. He had this guy murdered in a consulate in Turkey, and to expect me to ignore it — I feel used and abused,” Graham, a close ally of President Donald Trump, said during an interview with “Fox & Friends.”
Graham added that “there is a difference between a country and an individual,” but said that bin Salman is “toxic” and “can never be a world leader on the world stage.”
The senator’s remarks come as Saudi Arabia faces down a global outcry amid accusations that it orchestrated the killing of a journalist critical of the crown prince. Jamal Khashoggi, a contributor to The Washington Post, has not been seen since entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul earlier this month.
Trump has downplayed the accusations against the crown prince, and told reporters on Monday that the denial from King Salman was “very strong.” The president dispatched Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to meet with top officials in the country, while floating the alternative theory that Khashoggi might have been murdered by “rogue killers.”
Graham’s decision to continue his offensive against the country on a platform that Trump is known to watch is noteworthy.
“This guy has got to go,” Graham said Tuesday of bin Salman. Then, turning directly to the camera, Graham issued a striking plea that seemed to urge a power shuffle in the country.
“Saudi Arabia, if you’re listening, there are a lot of good people you can choose,” Graham said. “But MBS has tainted your country and tainted yourself.”
Asked about what he meant, Graham said, “it’s your job, not mine to pick your leader.”
The position of crown prince is not an elected office, so it was not immediately clear whom Graham was addressing. Bin Salman was appointed crown prince in 2017 by a royal decree from King Salman, the country’s aging leader who is thought to be a figurehead.
Earlier this year, NBC News reported that bin Salman ordered his mother, King Salman’s wife, under house arrest without the king’s knowledge, because bin Salman worried his mother opposed his plans to consolidate power.
Asked if Graham was addressing King Salman or other members of the royal family, Kevin Bishop, a spokesman for the senator, told CNBC, “Think you answered your own question.”
Last week, the Senate’s top foreign policy lawmakers called on the Trump administration to investigate Khashoggi’s disappearance and initiated a process that could result in sanctions on officials found to be responsible.
Graham said Tuesday that it was “up to the president” to decide how he would respond to the country.
“What I would do, I know what I’m going to do, I’m going to sanction the hell out of Saudi Arabia,” Graham said.