Pompeo declined interview with IG probing ’emergency’ Saudi arms sales before having him fired
Official White House Photo by Andrea HanksBy CONOR FINNEGAN and BENJAMIN SIEGEL, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declined to be interviewed by the Office of the Inspector General about his push for “emergency” arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, according to a congressional aide and a source with knowledge of the investigation. Pompeo instead submitted answers in writing to the OIG, according to the source.
The interaction with the staff for Inspector General Steve Linick came before Linick was fired last Friday night by President Donald Trump at Pompeo’s request — calling into question whether it was retaliation for or obstruction of the OIG’s work.
Pompeo denied that it was on Monday, telling the Washington Post in an interview that he was unaware of OIG investigations and therefore it was “simply not possible for this to be an act of retaliation.”
Pompeo seemed to only be asked by the Post about a second reported OIG investigation into whether he used a political appointee to run personal errands like walking the dog and picking up dry cleaning. He told the paper, “It is not possible that this decision… was based on any investigation that was going on, or is currently going on because I simply don’t know. I’m not briefed on it.”
The State Department has not responded to requests for comment. An OIG spokesperson said they cannot confirm or deny the existence of any investigations.
Pompeo is expected to speak at a press conference Wednesday morning.
It’s not clear why Linick was removed from his office. Trump’s letter to congressional leaders said only that he “no longer” had confidence in him, but days later, he told reporters at the White House that he did it at Pompeo’s request.
“I said look, I will terminate him. I don’t know what’s going on other than that, but you would have to ask Mike Pompeo, but they did ask me to do it, and I did it,” Trump said Monday.
For his part, Pompeo told the Washington Post Monday that Linick “wasn’t performing a function in a way that we had tried to get him to” and was “trying to undermine what it was that we were trying to do,” without offering specifics.
The inspector general is an independent federal watchdog with oversight of the agency. All inspectors general serve at the president’s appointment and can be fired by the White House, although they are confirmed to their role by the Senate.
In a statement to ABC News, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., said that the OIG’s investigation into the Saudi weapons sale “may be another reason for Mr. Linick’s firing.”
In May 2019, Pompeo’s State Department declared an emergency so that the administration could bypass congressional approval to send $8 billion of weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates amid their ongoing war in neighboring Yemen.
Congress has the authority to approve or reject U.S. arms sales and transfers. Republican and Democrat lawmakers opposed the sales, particularly because Saudi agents murdered and dismembered Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and the Saudi-led coalition had been using American-provided bombs to target civilians and civilian infrastructure in Yemen, according to the United Nations and monitoring groups on the ground.
But the State Department issued a legal justification to bypass those objections, citing an urgent threat from Iran and the Houthi rebels in Yemen that Tehran supports, even though many of the arms would not be transferred for months or even years.
Engel said in the statement that the State Department OIG “was investigating — at my request — Trump’s phony declaration of an emergency so he could send weapons to Saudi Arabia. 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,” according to Engel.
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