WASHINGTON ― The U.S. State Department inspector general was investigating the Trump administration’s use of an emergency declaration to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia when he was fired, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said Monday.
President Donald Trump announced late Friday that he was firing Steve Linick, the inspector general since 2013, which sparked a backlash from Democrats, who suggested Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was responsible for what “may be an illegal act of retaliation.”
New York Rep. Eliot Engel, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, tweeted on Monday that Linick’s “office was investigating — at my request — Trump’s phony emergency declaration so he could send Saudi Arabia weapons. We don’t have the full picture yet, but it’s troubling that Sec Pompeo wanted Linick pushed out.”
Trump, in May 2019, declared an emergency under the Arms Export Control Act to bypass Congress and expedite $8.1 billion in weapon sales for Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. At the time, Pompeo said the sales were needed “to deter further the malign influence of the Government of Iran throughout the Middle East region.”
Lawmakers were delaying the sales over humanitarian concerns, and Democrats pushed back over what they saw as overreach by the executive branch. In June 2019, 26 Democrats asked Linick to investigate the declaration, calling the justification for for it “dubious.”
In the wake of the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi ― who the American intelligence community says was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Turkey under orders by the Saudi kingdom ― Congress passed a series of measures on a bipartisan basis aimed at curbing U.S. support for Riyadh’s involvement in Yemen’s civil war. Trump vetoed the measures and the Senate failed to override.
NBC News first reported Sunday night that Linick was investigating allegations that Pompeo used staff for personal chores and errands. The Washington Post broke the news Monday that Linick had “mostly completed” an investigation into Pompeo’s decision, and that the State Department was recently briefed on the IG’s conclusions in that investigation.
Engel and Sen. Bob Menenedez, D-N.J., ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, demanded on Saturday that the White House hand over all records related to Trump’s latest firing of a federal watchdog.
Engel and Menendez sent letters to the White House, the State Department and the inspector general’s office asking that administration officials preserve all records related to Linick’s dismissal and provide them to the committees by this coming Friday.
In a statement Saturday, Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., blasted Linick’s firing as “unjustified” and called on Republicans to ensure accountability and oversight at the highest levels
“President Trump’s mismanagement has hollowed out the State Department and weakened the government’s ability to respond in a crisis,” Reed said. “His desire for public servants to place abject, political fealty to him above the Constitution is costing our nation.”
Joe Gould is senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry.