SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Sen. Mike Lee has challenged President Donald Trump over his defense of the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, who U.S. intelligence believes ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
"I disagree with the president's assessment. It's inconsistent with the intelligence I've seen," Lee said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," adding he's not sure what information the president is relying on.
"The intelligence I've seen suggests this was ordered by the crown prince."
Trump last week declared unwavering loyalty to Saudi Arabia and asserted that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's culpability for the killing of Khashoggi might never be known. He called the murder of Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and columnist for the Washington Post, "terrible" while calling Saudi Arabia a "great ally."
When asked on Thanksgiving who should be held responsible for Khashoggi's death, Trump told reporters "maybe the world."
"Maybe the world should be held accountable because the world is a vicious place," he said.
Both Lee and GOP Sen.-elect Mitt Romney have now criticized Trump's apparent dismissal of intelligence reports on Saudi Arabia. Romney said last week that the president's statements are inconsistent with U.S. foreign policy, national interest, human rights and "American greatness."
As House Democrats prepare to investigate whether Trump has financial ties with Saudi Arabia, Lee said he doesn't know why the president is siding with the Saudis.
"But I think there are things we can do to change our relationship with the Saudis, notwithstanding whatever his personal motivations might be," Lee said. "I'm also certain that in the next Congress, people will look into that. But again, I think Congress has to take some ownership of U.S. foreign policy. … "
Lee also reiterated his call for ending "unauthorized and unconstitutional" U.S. military intervention in Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen.
"This is not an ally that deserves this kind of military intervention, especially because there's been no connection between the safety of the American people and our involvement in this war. It's one of the reasons why we've got to get out now. I belive this is an opportunity for the Congress to weigh in and say, 'Lets halt our efforts in Yemen,'" Lee said.
In February, Lee, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., introduced a resolution to remove U.S. forces from fighting between Saudi Arabia and the Houthi movement in Yemen. The U.S. has supported Saudi Arabia in the war against the Houthis, an Islamic sect that seized the Yemeni capital of Sanaa and other parts of the country more than three years ago.
Lee was asked on "Meet the Press" if he wonders whether rebuking the president on a number of issues is worth it because his behavior doesn't change.12 comments on this story
"We all know that he has an unconventional style. He has a different approach than other people have taken to this job. But he is in fact the president of the United States and it's some of these same styles that helped get him elected in the first place," he said.
Asked if there is a breaking point, Lee said, "Oh, sure. Anytime somebody violates the Constitution, I'm going to call them out on it, do what I can from my position as a member of the United States Senate to stop it."
Lee said he can help steer Trump in a direction that is consistent with his policies and in the best interests of the American people.
"Sometimes with this president you've got to look not just at what he says but also at what he does," Lee said.