Democrats: Fired watchdog was looking into Saudi arms sale

Democrats: Fired watchdog was looking into Saudi arms sale

Democrats: Fired watchdog was looking into Saudi arms sale

WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats say the State Department watchdog fired by President Donald Trump last week was investigating possible impropriety in a massive arms sale to Saudi Arabia last year, adding new questions to the watchdog’s abrupt dismissal.

Democrats said Monday that ousted Inspector General Steve Linick was probing how the State Department pushed through a $7 billion Saudi arms sale over congressional objections. Democrats previously suggested the dismissal might have been tied to Linick’s investigation of allegations that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo may have improperly ordered staff to run personal errands for him.

Linick’s dismissal late Friday comes amid broader concerns over Trump’s removal of inspectors general at various departments. Trump has said he had lost confidence in those fired but has not given specific reasons, which lawmakers from both parties have criticized.

Pompeo told The Washington Post on Monday that he had recommended to Trump that Linick be removed because he was “undermining” the State Department’s mission. He would not address specifics except to say it was not in retaliation for any investigation.

“It is not possible that this decision, or my recommendation rather, to the president rather, was based on any effort to retaliate for any investigation that was going on, or is currently going on,” Pompeo told the Post, adding that he did not know if Linick’s office had been looking into possible impropriety on his part.

Under Secretary of State for Management Brian Bulatao told the Post that confidence in Linick had begun to wane after leaks to the media last year about an IG investigation into political retaliation against career employees by political appointees. When released, that report was critical of several political appointees for having acted against career officials deemed insufficiently loyal to Trump.

Trump confirmed Monday that he fired Linick at Pompeo’s request.

“I have the absolute right as president to terminate. I said, ‘Who appointed him?’ And they say, ‘President Obama.’ I said, look, I’ll terminate him,” Trump said at the White House.

Rep. Eliot Engel, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he was troubled that Linick was fired before the completion of the Saudi investigation. Engel had called for that probe after Pompeo in May 2019 invoked a rarely used provision in federal law to bypass a congressional review of arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

“His office was investigating — at my request — Trump’s phoney declaration of an emergency so he could send weapons to Saudi Arabia,” said Engel, D-N.Y. “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.”

He called for the State Department to turn over records related to Linick’s firing that he and the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, had demanded on Saturday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it was “alarming” to see reports that the firing may have been in response to Linick’s investigation into the Saudi arms deal. In a letter to Trump, she demanded an explanation.

Trump notified Congress of the dismissal, as required. But Pelosi said it was essential that he provide “detailed and substantial justification for the removal” before the end of a 30-day review period.

Meanwhile, Trump ally Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who has pushed for the protection of inspectors general, renewed a call for the White House to explain the dismissals of Linick and the earlier ouster of intelligence community watchdog Michael Atkinson.

Grassley said Congress intended that inspectors general only be removed when there is clear evidence of unfitness, wrongdoing or failure to perform the duties of the office.

“An expression of lost confidence, without further explanation, is not sufficient,” Grassley said.

Over the weekend, congressional aides had suggested that the dismissal may have been prompted by a probe into allegations that Pompeo had ordered a staffer to pick up take-out food, collect dry cleaning for him and his wife, and care for their dog.

Trump said he was unconcerned by the allegations and unfamiliar with any investigations by Linick into Pompeo.

“They’re bothered because he’s having somebody walk his dog?” Trump said. “I’d rather have him on the phone with some world leader than have him wash dishes.”

The president defended the Saudi weapons sales, saying it should be as “easy as possible” for other countries to buy U.S. weaponry so they don’t get them from China, Russia and other nations.

“We should take the jobs and take the money, because it’s billions of dollars,” Trump said.

While problematic, such allegations are unlikely to result in any kind of severe consequence against Pompeo if proved correct. A finding of impropriety in the Saudi arms sales could be more serious.

Engel and other congressional Democrats were appalled when Pompeo notified Congress of the decision to use an emergency loophole in the Arms Export Control Act to move ahead with sales of $7 billion in precision guided munitions, other bombs and ammunition and aircraft maintenance support to Saudi Arabia, along with the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, without lawmakers’ approval.

The law requires Congress to be notified of potential arms sales, giving the body the opportunity to block the sale. But the law also allows the president to waive that review process by declaring an emergency that requires the sale be made “in the national security interests of the United States.”

In his notification, Pompeo said he had made the determination “that an emergency exists which requires the immediate sale” of the weapons “in order to deter further the malign influence of the government of Iran throughout the Middle East region.”

It came as the administration courted close ties with Saudi Arabia over congressional objections, notably following the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S.-based columnist for The Washington Post, by Saudi agents in October 2018.

Matthew Lee, The Associated Press

United States

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The external wall of the Bentley Post Office was destroyed when a semi drove into the building, resulting is an estimated $50,000 in damages. (Photo Submitted)
Sylvan Lake RCMP lay charges in post office destruction

One suspect is in custody the second suspect has a warrant for his arrest

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the province still hopes to bring the hospitalization number down before relaxing restrictions. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
14 new deaths, 366 new COVID-19 cases in Alberta

Province nearing 100K COVID-19 vaccine doses administered

The first pages of the book, by Kristy Walker.
Sylvan Lake author pens first children’s book about COVID-19

“The Coronavirus Isn’t Scary” by Kristy Walker teaches children to take care of themselves

Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, MLA Innisfail-Sylvan Lake, Devin Dreeshen. (Photo Submitted)
Ag Minister announces 20% off crop insurance for Alberta farmers

Dreeshen says this will support job creators and boosting rural economy during a difficult time

Terrance Josephson of the Princeton Posse, at left, and Tyson Conroy of the Summerland Steam clash during a Junior B hockey game at the Summerland Arena in the early spring of 2020. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Test your knowledge of Canada’s national winter sport

Mom’s Diner owner Wesley Langlois has joined a growing number of Alberta restaurants that are allowing sit-in dining despite public health restrictions. Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
Red Deer diner joins sit-down dining protest

Mom’s Diner has joined a growing list of Alberta restaurants flouting health restrictions

Young hockey players were out on Bentley Tuesday for a march to a support a return to sports. (Photo courtesy of Bobby McKinlay)
(Kraft Dinner/Twitter)
Kraft Dinner launches candy-flavoured mac and cheese just in time for Valentine’s Day

Sweet and cheesy treat will be here just in time for the cheesiest holiday of the year

In this undated image made from a video taken by the Duke of Sussex and posted on @SaveChildrenUK by the Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, shows the Duchess of Sussex reading the book “Duck! Rabbit!” to their son Archie who celebrates his first birthday on Wednesday May 6, 2020. The Canadian Paediatric Society is reminding families that the process of raising a reader starts from birth. (Duke of Sussex/@SaveChildrenUK)
Canadian Paediatric Society says raising a reader starts from birth

CPS says literacy is one of the strongest predictors of lifelong health outcomes

Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Minister Carla Qualtrough responds to a question during a news conference Thursday August 20, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Easing rules for parental benefits created inequities among parents, documents say

Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough’s office says the government will make any necessary changes

People walk along a pedestrianized zone of Sainte-Catherine street in Montreal, Monday, May 18, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. Newly released statistics point to a major drop in police-recorded crime during the first eight months of the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Crime down in first 8 months of pandemic, but mental health calls rise: StatCan

The agency says violent crimes such as assault dropped significantly

(Photo submitted)
Central Alberta researchers recognized for studies in agricultural sciences

Jessica Sperber of Ponoka and David MacTaggart of Lacombe awarded prestigious scholarship

FILE – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivers his opening remarks at a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Tuesday, January 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine CEO ‘very, very clear’ that Canada’s contracts will be honoured: Trudeau

Trudeau says he spoke to Moderna CEO on the morning of Jan. 26

Most Read