Fired Inspector General Was Investigating Pompeo’s Role in Saudi Arm Sales
“His office was investigating — at my request — Trump’s phony declaration of an emergency so he could send weapons to Saudi Arabia.”
On Friday evening, President Donald Trump informed Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi that he would remove Inspector General Steve Linick from his position at the State Department. The action immediately drew criticism from both sides and on Monday, new information indicated the firing was related to an investigation of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s role in arm sales to Saudi Arabia.
Sales to Saudi Arabia Under Scrutiny
Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Linick had been reviewing Pompeo’s decision to bypass a congressional review of the weapons sales in May 2019, the Associated Press reported.
“His office was investigating — at my request — Trump’s phony declaration of an emergency so he could send weapons to Saudi Arabia,” Engel said.
Trough a loophole in the Arms Export Control Act, the Trump administration was able to carry out sells to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan — $7 billion of which went to Riyadh. Congressional support for increased backing of the Saudi–UAE alliance began to wane last year when news of civilian casualties in Yemen became public knowledge.
Both houses of Congress passed resolutions to prohibit the weapons sale in July, but Trump vetoed them and a Senate vote to override the veto failed, BBC reported. The vote was narrow, however, with five Republican senators voting against the president.
Trump went on to declare it an emergency in order to elude further legislative review, an action Pompeo supported and possibly helped craft. According to the Associated Press, he deemed “that an emergency exists which requires the immediate sale” of weapons in order to deter Iran.
With Linick investigating Pompeo, the secretary recommended to Trump that he fire the inspector general. Engel and Sen. Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, requested records from the State Department pertaining to Linick’s removal.
“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 said. “The administration should comply with the probe I launched with Senator Menendez and turn over all the records requested from the Department by Friday.”
Trump Administration Isn’t Fond of Oversight
Pelosi said the firing “could be unlawful,” although it is within the president’s authority to terminate the employment of federal employees. Doing so as retaliation is illegal, she said.
Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, the only Republican to vote for convicting Trump on an impeachment charge, said Trump’s firing of Linick is “a threat to accountable democracy,” CNN reported.
“The firings of multiple Inspectors General is unprecedented; doing so without good cause chills the independence essential to their purpose. It is a threat to accountable democracy and a fissure in the constitutional balance of power,” Romney tweeted.
Lat month, Trump fired the intelligence community inspector general Michael Atkinson who informed Congress about the whistleblower complaint that ultimately led to the president’s impeachment. A week later, he also removed Glenn Fine, the acting inspector general for the Defense Department.
Can Pompeo Escape Another Investigation?
Linick’s investigation of Pompeo is only the most recent review of alleged misconduct by the secretary. Last summer, a whistleblower complaint accused Pompeo of ordering his security agents to chauffeur his dog to the groomer and pickup food orders.
Allegations also surfaced regarding the role of Pompeo’s wife, Susan, in Washington, the New York Times reported. She traveled with him to the Middle East in January 2019, which is not overly uncommon for diplomats. However, her presence in the State Department during day-to-day operations raised eyebrows.
“She has this quasi-official role, where my friends are called to meetings she is leading at the department,” said Brett Bruen, former director of global engagement on President Barack Obama’s National Security Council. “They know that’s not supposed to happen, because she isn’t in their chain of command. But what can they do?”
When Pompeo served as Director of the CIA, his wide was there, too, using an office at the agency’s Langley headquarters and occasionally asking employees to help her. CNN also reported their son made use of a CIA shooting range for recreation.
Although formal congressional inquiries were never opened, the firing of Linick, reportedly at Pompeo’s request, has opened the secretary up to probes of his conduct. Trump’s firing of another inspector general also raises questions about the shape of oversight in Washington, which Democratic legislators will begin to analyze in detail.