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State official dodges questions about Kushner's role in Saudi arms sales

Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs R. Clarke Cooper refused to answer questions at a House Foreign Affairs hearing about Jared Kushner's involvement in the decision to sell Saudi Arabia weapons over the objections of Congress, before eventually conceding that Kushner is "one of the lines of communication" between the U.S. and Riyadh.

REP. KEATING: "What about the overall issue of providing arms to the Saudis? Was Jared Kushner involved in that? Don't define it so narrowly."
COOPER: "I'm not defining it narrowly. I'm talking about the emergency declaration, which was conditions-based. I can talk to you about the conditions."
REP. KEATING: No, no. I want you to answer my question. It's pretty simple. You were involved in all of this. Was Jared Kushner involved?
COOPER: Not in the emergency declaration.
REP. KEATING: No I'm not asking that. In discussions with the Saudis about arms sales.
COOPER: I see what you're asking. On bilateral communications ... there are number of lines of communications with our partners, including Saudi Arabia --
REP. KEATING: Was he involved?
COOPER: Not in the emergency declaration.
REP. KEATING: You're not answering my question. This is a man who is in charge of the Middle East peace process. He's got a direct line to the Saudi leadership, as well established. He has discussions all the time with Saudi rulers, himself sometimes in private. So tell me. Why can't you answer that question?
COOPER: Congressman Keating, there are multiple lines of communications with our partners in Riyadh, including here in Washington, as well as our embassy.
REP. KEATING: I didn't ask about the multiple lines. Is Jared Kushner?
COOPER: He would be one of the lines.

Context: Cooper is being grilled on the Trump administration’s decision to invoke an emergency provision allowing him to bypass Congress to sell nearly $8 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who are waging a brutal war in Yemen. The administration has argued that signs of an increased threat from Iran justify the use of "emergency" powers.

  • A bipartisan group of senators, including Trump ally Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), has introduced 22 joint resolutions condemning the weapons sales. Trump will likely veto the measures if they land on his desk.

The big picture: The hearing is part of a broader trend of pushback by Congress against the administration's close relationship with Saudi Arabia, which has come under closer scrutiny in the months following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Go deeper ... Exclusive: Jared Kushner on his relationship with the Saudi crown prince