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Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin calls for expulsion of Saudi ambassador

The Illinois senator said the Saudi government's latest explanation of journalist's death is not believable.
Image: Dick Durbin on 'Meet The Press'
Sen. Dick Durbin speaks with Chuck Todd on 'Meet The Press' on Sunday.NBC News

WASHINGTON — Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., called on the Trump administration on Sunday to expel the Saudi ambassador to the United States over evolving explanations of the Saudi government's role in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the country's embassy in Turkey .

Durbin admonished the Saudi government during an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" in the wake of the Saudi government's latest admission that Khashoggi, a columnist fore The Washington Post, died after entering the embassy in early October. The Saudi government has provided shifting stories since Khashoggi disappeared, saying late Friday that he died in a fight inside the embassy.

"The only person on Earth, outside of the Saudi kingdom, who appears to accept it is President Donald Trump," Durbin said about the Saudis' latest version of events.

"Here's what we ought to do, and we ought to do it tomorrow morning — we ought to expel, formally expel, the Saudi ambassador from the United States until there as a completion of a third-party instigation into this kidnap, murder and God-knows-what followed."

Durbin said Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's "fingerprints" were "all over" Khashoggi's death.

Saudi Arabian's ambassador to the United States is Prince Khaled bin Salman, the crown prince's younger brother. He was back in Riyadh to welcome U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this week, and it's unclear whether he plans to return to the United States immediately in light of the situation.

The international community has been scrambling to respond to Khashoggi's death in recent weeks, and amid mounting pressure, the Saudi government admitted for the first time that Khashoggi died while in its embassy, saying it had detained 18 people as a part of its investigation.

But the official account of the death doesn't connect bin Salman to Khashoggi and leaves a number of major questions.

Speaking to reporters on Saturday in Nevada, Trump called the Saudi statement and the arrests a "big first step," cautioning that there were still more facts to uncover but warning that canceling arms deals with Saudi Arabia as retribution could hurt the U.S> economy.

Trump expanded on his thoughts during an interview with The Washington Post that was published Sunday morning, during which he said that "obviously there's been deception and there's been lies" and called bin Salman "a strong person" who has "good control."

Also on "Meet the Press," Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., shared Durbin's criticism, as well as his skepticism of the Saudi government's attempts to distance itself from the incident.

"We've got to get to the bottom of this. In Saudi Arabia, you don't do something of this magnitude without having clearance from the top" he said. "We need to find out who that is and hold them accountable."

Tillis didn't point the finger at bin Salman as explicitly as Durbin did, but he said he can't imagine a U.S. relationship with bin-Salman, adding that "if the facts lead to where we all suspect they will, it will be very problematic."

But he took issue with the idea that Trump hasn't been strong enough on the issue, arguing that the president is taking a cautious approach as officials get to the bottom of what happened.

"All you are seeing is the public response. I know the State Department, the Intelligence community and a number of other people are taking it seriously," he said.

"The president will take the appropriate action when all the facts are in," he said.