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I Have No Evidence That Khashoggi Is Alive, Sen. Murphy Says

NOEL KING, HOST:

The Washington Post has run what is believed to be the last column written by Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. He's the writer, a U.S. resident based in Virginia, who disappeared after walking into the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul earlier this month. Turkish officials say the Saudi government murdered him. But President Trump says the U.S. needs more evidence before holding the Saudis responsible.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We've asked for it, if it exists.

UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: Are you surprised that they haven't turned it over?

TRUMP: No. I'm not sure yet that it exists - probably does, possibly does.

KING: Turkish media reported the existence of a recording yesterday. It allegedly captured the last moments of Khashoggi's life. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has denied any involvement in the disappearance, but some lawmakers are calling for Saudi Arabia to be held accountable. Senator Chris Murphy is one of them. He's a Democrat from Connecticut and a member of the foreign relations committee.

Good morning, Senator.

CHRIS MURPHY: Good morning.

KING: Do you feel certain that you know what happened to Jamal Khashoggi?

MURPHY: I don't know that, without the evidence that the Turks reportedly have, I can say that I feel certain. But I have seen no evidence - and I've seen the classified information available to members of Congress - to suggest that Khashoggi is alive. Everything that I have seen that's both publicly available and privately available leads me to believe that the Saudis did, unfortunately, murder Khashoggi inside that consulate.

KING: So then how does the U.S. hold Saudi Arabia accountable at this point? Specifics, please.

MURPHY: Well, the first thing we've asked is for the president to do his own investigation into who's responsible and sanction individuals that it believed ordered this execution. And so that process is underway. The president is required by law to report to us on his findings.

KING: OK.

MURPHY: But Congress can act on its own. And I would argue that we should take the step of removing the United States from a military coalition with the Saudis that is currently bombing the country of Yemen, resulting in thousands of civilian deaths inside that country. And the reason that I think that these two should be linked is because the United States is partnering with Saudi Arabia because we believe the Saudis when they tell us that they are not intentionally killing civilians with their bombing campaign. Given the fact that they are likely lying to us about what happened to Khashoggi, I think that it is likely that they are also lying to us - and have been lying to us for a long time - about what they are doing inside Yemen.

I have believed, as many others have, that they are, in fact, targeting civilians inside Yemen with the United States' bombs, with the United States' assistance. And if that is the case, then we shouldn't be any part of that coalition. And it would be a, I think, important message to send to us that if you're not telling us the truth, we are not going to be in business with you.

KING: You have been making this point about Yemen and civilian deaths there and U.S. involvement - potential involvement in Yemen for some time. But your legislation to stop U.S. support for Saudi Arabia in that war hasn't gained much traction. What makes you think that this specific case of an allegedly murdered journalist might make any kind of difference, might be a tipping point?

MURPHY: Well, I will admit I'm very frustrated that the United States has been assisting Saudi Arabia in killing thousands of civilians inside Yemen. And it hasn't gotten much attention until the murder of this journalist. But I think it's getting attention now because the two are linked because we have supported Saudi Arabia's bombing campaign because we have believed them - because when all these civilians were being killed, they told us it was by accident, even though all of the evidence suggested otherwise.

And so I think - and I have been making the case to my colleagues for years that the Saudis aren't telling us the truth, that they are, in fact, lying to us. And I now think that many of my colleagues' eyes are being opened to the prospect that Mohammed bin Salman has not been straight with the United States about other things, just like he has not been straight with the United States about what happened to Jamal Khashoggi.

KING: Senator, as you well know, there are risks that come with calling the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia into question. Experts will point to Saudi Arabia's oil. Experts will point to geopolitical stability in that region. Are those risks enough to stay the hand of the United States?

MURPHY: Well, this idea that the United States is more dependent on Saudi Arabia than Saudi Arabia is on us is ridiculous.

KING: How so?

MURPHY: Well, it's important to remember that if Saudi Arabia decided to stop selling oil to the United States, it hurts Saudi Arabia - frankly, at this point - more than it hurts the United States because we have found ways to become less dependent on Saudi oil than we were in the past.

And I would also argue that we need to look at the broader scope of the trend line of arms sales to Saudi Arabia. We are selling Saudi Arabia much more arms today than we were 10 years ago. And so what I'm suggesting is that we just return to a level of arms sales to a military relationship that looks much more like it did a decade ago. There has been a big increase in our military partnership with them over the years. I'm suggesting scaling that back to where it used to be.

KING: Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Thank you, Senator.

MURPHY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.