May 18, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Democrats say ousted State Department watchdog was probing Saudi arms sales

State Department Inspector General Steve Linick.
Steve Linick. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) said in a statement Monday that Steve Linick, the State Department inspector general who President Trump moved to fire last week, was investigating the administration's effort to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia without congressional approval.

Why it matters: Engel and Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) have announced an investigation into Trump's ouster of Linick, the fourth inspector general the president has sought to remove in six weeks.

  • The review of the administration's arms sales further contextualizes the abrupt decision to fire Linick, who was also probing whether Secretary of State Mike Pompeo directed a staffer to run errands for him and his wife, including walking his dog.
  • Trump did not provide a reason for Linick's ouster in his notification to Speaker Nancy Pelosi Friday night, simply saying that he had lost confidence in the agency watchdog.

The big picture: In May 2019, Trump invoked an emergency provision bypassing Congress to sell nearly $8 billion worth of weapons that would benefit Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

  • The unusual move came amid growing bipartisan discomfort about the United States' relationship with Saudi Arabia, following the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the brutal humanitarian crisis caused by the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
  • Both chambers of Congress passed resolutions seeking to end U.S. support for the war in Yemen and block arms sales to Saudi Arabia last year. Trump vetoed all of them.

What they're saying: “[Linick’s] office was investigating — at my request — Trump’s phony declaration of an emergency so he could send weapons to Saudi Arabia,” Engel said in a statement first reported by Politico.

  • “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.”

The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Go deeper: Ousted watchdog was probing claims Pompeo used staffer for errands

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