Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, speaks about immigration on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 7, 2018. Credit: Jacquelyn Martin | AP

U.S. Sen. Angus King on Sunday said it was “clear” the Saudi crown prince was involved in ordering the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. The statement came days after President Donald Trump played down the CIA’s assessment of the prince’s role in the killing.

King, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in an appearance on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that “you don’t have to be the CIA to put things together and say how could this happen without the prince being involved. He’s in total control.”

On Thursday, Trump defended his ongoing support for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the wake of the CIA’s conclusion that the young prince had ordered Khashoggi’s assassination, saying that the agency had “feelings” but did not place blame for the death.

“I hate the crime, I hate the coverup. I will tell you this: The crown prince hates it more than I do, and they have vehemently denied it,” Trump told reporters from his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, where he spent the Thanksgiving holiday.

Trump has been under mounting pressure from Democrats and Republicans in Congress for a tougher response over the killing. Trump has resisted calls to punish Saudi Arabia, pointing to the kingdom’s purchase of weapons from U.S. arms manufacturers. Saudi Arabia spent $69.4 billion to build up its military in 2017, and more than half of its weapons are imported from the U.S., according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Trump has also said the U.S. needs Saudi Arabia as a “counterbalance” to Iran.

King, who was briefed by the CIA on the Khashoggi killing before the Thanksgiving break, fired back at Trump’s characterization of the CIA’s conclusions, saying “the CIA doesn’t do feelings, they do assessments.”

A team of 15 Saudis flew to Istanbul, Turkey, on government aircraft in early October and killed Khashoggi, who had been living in self-imposed exile from the kingdom in Virginia, inside the Saudi consulate, where he had come to pick up documents that he needed for his planned marriage to a Turkish woman.

The CIA’s conclusion about Salman’s role in the Oct. 2 killing was, in part, based on the agency’s assessment of the prince as the country’s de facto ruler, according to the Washington Post.

“The accepted position is that there is no way this happened without him being aware or involved,” a U.S. official familiar with the CIA’s conclusions told the Washington Post.

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Earlier this month, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned 15 Saudis, including a top aide to Salman, over their role in the Khashoggi killing.

“The Saudi officials we are sanctioning were involved in the abhorrent killing of Jamal Khashoggi. These individuals who targeted and brutally killed a journalist who resided and worked in the United States must face consequences for their actions,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement announcing sanctions.

When asked whether the U.S. needed to go beyond individual sanctions, King said that the U.S. needed “to make difficult decisions” that could include punishing the Saudi crown prince.

“So far what they’re doing is giving a pass to this guy. And I think it gives a pass to dictators around the world. That’s the danger. It undermines our authority and the authority of our values across the planet,” King said.