WASHINGTON — The director of the Central Intelligence Agency briefed leading senators on Tuesday about the death of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi — an attempt to mollify lawmakers who last week signaled they might not continue military support for the Saudi-backed war in Yemen without more information about the Saudi dissident’s killing.
The closed session in the basement of the Capitol came after senators from both parties expressed anger that Gina Haspel, the C.I.A. director, did not attend an earlier briefing by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. They had sought last week to persuade senators to stay the course with Saudi Arabia, a key Middle East ally, in the interests of American security.
But furious lawmakers want to know if American spies believe the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, had a role in Mr. Khashoggi’s grisly killing on Oct. 2 at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. The White House and Mr. Trump have shown little willingness to shift from their policy of supporting Saudi Arabia and Prince Mohammed.
American officials have said that the C.I.A. has concluded that Prince Mohammed ordered it, and the intelligence agency has evidence that he communicated repeatedly with an aide who commanded the team that assassinated Mr. Khashoggi, around the time of the killing.
Ms. Haspel’s briefing on Tuesday aimed to appease Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who had vowed to freeze the Trump administration’s legislative priorities until she spoke to the Senate. In attendance were the top Republicans and Democrats on the Armed Services, Foreign Relations, Appropriations and Intelligence committees, as well as other Senate leaders.
But there was already grumbling on Tuesday about the arrangement before the briefing began.
Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, a Republican and the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN that he wished Ms. Haspel was briefing the full Senate, rather than a select group.
And Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, a leading Republican proponent for ending American involvement in Yemen, said the arrangement epitomized the “deep state.”
“The deep state wants to keep everyone in the dark,” he wrote. “This is just ridiculous!”
Mr. Graham, in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, defended the vote last week, 63 to 37, to bring a measure to limit presidential war powers in Yemen to debate on the Senate floor.
“The recent vote should show Saudi Arabia and the Trump administration that Congress isn’t mugging for the cameras or ‘caterwauling,’ as the secretary of state put it,” Mr. Graham wrote. “We are a coequal branch of government exercising leadership to safeguard the country’s long-term interests, values and reputation. “After all, someone’s got to do it.”
He added: “The fear that the Saudis will stop cooperating with the U.S. on terrorism or Iran isn’t rational. Those threats pose as much of a danger to the Saudis as they do to America. Demanding better from allies isn’t downgrading the relationship; it’s a sign that Americans take our principles seriously and won’t be taken advantage of by anyone, friend or foe.”
The vote was the strongest signal yet that Republican and Democratic senators alike remain deeply skeptical of the administration’s insistence that Prince Mohammad, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, cannot with certainty be blamed for the death of Mr. Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post who was a Virginia resident.
But privately, even some Republicans on Capitol Hill who believe that Prince Mohammed ordered the killing have said that they support the administration’s decision not to impose significant consequences on Saudi Arabia, arguing that the kingdom’s support is needed to confront threats from Iran.
Senators were still negotiating on Tuesday when to hold votes on the war powers resolution and over possible amendments that could neuter its language.
The issue could come up for debate as early as Thursday, Senate aides involved in the planning said, but with memorial services for President George Bush scrambling the congressional schedule this week, a vote could slip into next week.
Whatever the outcome — the measure, as currently written, needs only a simple majority to pass — the votes will be primarily symbolic. Even if the measure passes the Senate, there is little chance that House lawmakers will consider it this year.