Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sparred Wednesday with the hosts of "Fox & Friends" about the death of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudia Arabian dissident and author.
After discussing the situation in Strasbourg following a terror attack at a Christmas market, the hosts turned their attention to the murder of Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Turkey.
President Donald Trump has acknowledged Saudi forces were behind the assassination but denies there is sufficient proof to directly blame Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is viewed as pro-American and often described as the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia.
Pompeo agreed Wednesday that the murder was "heinous," but he defended the Saudi relationship. "America has an important ally in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia," he said.
Asked about how serious he was about holding the murderers to account, Pompeo pointed to the U.S. sanctions imposed on Saudi nationals believed to have participated in the plot.
The hosts pushed back, asking if Pompeo believes the crown prince knew of the murder. "We know the prince knows, right?" Brian Kilmeade asked. "You know, you looked him in the eye, you know that he knows."
"I've spoken to the king, King Salman, I've spoken to the crown prince a number of times since the murder of Jamal Khashoggi," Pompeo said, "and it is absolutely America's intent to hold everyone accountable who was responsible for this."
Kilmeade pressed further, asking, "So that's yes? when you looked him in the eye and he denied it, did you believe him?"
"The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia decides who's running the country," Pompeo answered. "I think this is what the president said yesterday. We are working closely with the kingdom to make sure America is protected. That's our interest there."
Ainsley Earhardt asked how the U.S. could work with Saudi Arabia to defend American interests when "the CIA says that they're highly confident that the Saudi crown prince did order the murder of Jamal Khashoggi."
In the Senate, Trump's supporters and critics alike were alarmed following a briefing last week by CIA Director Gina Haspel, which included audio of Khashoggi's killing. After the briefing, an emotional Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) told reporters on Capitol Hill that he had lost faith in bin Salman's fitness to lead, and would need to reconsider the Saudi relationship. "MBS, the crown prince, is a wrecking ball. I think he is complicit in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi to the highest level possible," Graham said.
"Some of the reporting that you've seen on that has been inaccurate," Pompeo said.
The hosts asked the secretary of state for details. "That's false?" Earhardt asked in reference to the reported CIA assessment that the murder wouldn't have been carried out without the crown prince's knowledge.
"Look, look we all know they're still working on this," Pompeo said. "This is still a developing set of facts with respect to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the intelligence community is working diligently on that. The direct evidence—this is what I've said before—the direct evidence isn't yet available. It may show up tomorrow, it may have shown up overnight, I haven't seen it."
Khashoggi was among those Time magazine named as its Person of the Year on Tuesday.
As bad as Saudi behavior might have been, Pompeo argued, Saudi Arabia plays a key role supporting U.S. interests in the region. "Iran is running rampant throughout the Middle East," Pompeo said. "The death of any one individual is awful. The death of hundreds of thousands of people in Europe, the Middle East, or the United States matters an awful lot. President Trump is committed to protecting America."
Sens. Mike Lee (R., Utah), Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) and Chris Murphy (D., Conn.) plan to push a resolution ending American support for the Saudi-led campaign against Iranian proxies in Yemen. Though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) has voiced opposition, the resolution has a chance to garner the requisite majority.
Haspel briefed House leaders about Khashoggi's death Wednesday. Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis are scheduled to brief the House on Khashoggi's death and the U.S. military's role in Yemen on Thursday.