U.S. House Democrats Attack Pompeo Aides on Saudi Weapons, Cite War Crimes Concerns
Trump abruptly fired Steve Linick from the State watchdog position on May 15, as he probed the administration’s decision to approve billions of dollars in military sales to Saudi Arabia despite congressional opposition.
Members of Congress had objected to the transactions, concerned they would exacerbate the huge humanitarian cost of the war in Yemen, possibly leaving U.S. officials vulnerable to war crimes charges.
“Did Mr. Pompeo fire (Linick) because he was getting closer and closer to matters that were embarrassing for Mr. Pompeo and his family… matters that implicated the State Department in a scheme to bypass Congress and sell lethal weapons that might be used for war crimes?” asked Representative Eliot Engel, the Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.
Linick was one of five inspectors general – officials responsible for preventing government waste, fraud and abuse – fired under the Trump administration within six weeks. The firings prompted concern among members of Congress, including some of Trump’s fellow Republicans, over whether Trump was interfering with legitimate oversight.
“The news of Inspector General Linick’s firing did come as a surprise… Any time one is terminated, it naturally will raise some questions,” said Representative Michael McCaul, the committee’s top Republican.
Linick was also investigating allegations that Pompeo and his wife misused government resources by having department staff handle personal matters, such as picking up cleaning and walking their dog.
Wednesday’s hearing lasted for more than three hours and often lapsed into acrimony, as Democrats attacked the department for refusing to cooperate.
Congress had requested an investigation into the Trump administration’s May 2019 decision to allow $8 billion in military sales to Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Jordan by declaring a “national emergency” over tensions with Iran.
Lawmakers had blocked many of the transactions for months out of concern the Raytheon RTX.N smart bombs and other equipment might contribute to the human catastrophe in Yemen, where bombings by a Saudi-led coalition have caused heavy civilian casualties.
A report issued by the IG’s office in August found State did not fully evaluate the risks to civilians when it pushed through the huge precision-guided munitions sale, although it did not violate the law.