WASHINGTON ― The Trump administration is pursuing a new deal to provide precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia, as prior sales to the kingdom are facing new scrutiny, a top Senate Democrat said Wednesday.
The news has sparked a backlash from multiple high profile Senate Democrats. It comes after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday confirmed that he knew his department’s inspector general, Steve Linick, who the president fired this month, was investigating a massive arms sale to Saudi Arabia made last year.
In a CNN op-ed Wednesday, Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Bob Menendez said he discovered that the administration is pursuing a previously undisclosed arms sale to Saudi Arabia, which includes “thousands more precision-guided bombs to the President’s ‘friend,’ Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.”
“Before we went into pandemic lockdown, I received draft State Department documentation that it is now pursuing this previously undisclosed sale ― details of which have not yet been made public ― even though the Saudis seemingly want out of their failed and brutal war in Yemen, and despite the fact that a bipartisan majority in Congress rejected previous sales of these weapons,” Menendez, D-N.J., wrote.
"The administration has refused to answer our fundamental questions to justify this new sale and articulate how it would be consistent with US values and national security objectives," he added.
Last year, Menendez blocked a sale of U.S. arms to Saudi Arabia, leading to the Trump administration declared an emergency in May 2019 that helped the president bypass Congress and to make those sales, with an estimated price tag of over $8 billion, go through. The House and Senate passed 22 resolutions aimed at disapproving the sales, but Congress couldn’t muster the votes to overturn the president’s veto.
The Daily Beast broke the news that the administration was considering a new arms sale to Riyadh.
Trump fired Linick late Friday, in what lawmakers have suggested was a move to preempt investigations into Pompeo’s personal conduct or possible impropriety in the Saudi arms sale.
"I have learned that there may be another reason for Mr. Linick’s firing. His office was investigating ― at my request ― Trump’s phony declaration of an emergency so he could send weapons to Saudi Arabia,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel said in a statement this month. “We don’t have the full picture yet, but it’s troubling that Secretary Pompeo wanted Mr. Linick pushed out before this work could be completed.”
Engel and Menendez have opened an investigation into Linick’s removal, which Menendez called an apparent, “politically motivated act of retaliation designed to protect Pompeo.”
“The question remains: why is the President and his top diplomat working so hard to prop up one of the world’s worst despots? Until we have an answer, Congress must reject this new multi-million dollar sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia,” he said.
Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.