Intel: Saudi arms sale probe factored in Trump's firing of watchdog

al-monitor US President Donald Trump participates in the daily coronavirus task force briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, April 20, 2020. Photo by REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst.
Bryant Harris

Bryant Harris


Topics covered

mike pompeo, steve linick, us-saudi relations, donald trump, veto, arms sales, saudi military coalition

May 18, 2020

President Donald Trump fired State Department Inspector General Steve Linick last week in part because of an investigation into an $8 billion emergency arms sale for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, a source on Capitol Hill told Al-Monitor.

A Democratic aide told Al-Monitor that the House Foreign Affairs Committee “has received information that this investigation was tied to his removal.”

The Washington Post first reported that the year-old arms sale was part of Linick’s investigation into Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Trump fired Linick on Friday night at Pompeo’s urging. Initial reports indicated that Linick was investigating allegations that Pompeo had used a staffer to perform personal chores and errands.

Why it matters:  Today’s revelation indicates that the president was also concerned about the arms sale investigation.

The president cited Iran to invoke emergency powers as part of a bid to circumvent Congress and sell billions in Raytheon-made precision-guided missiles and combat aircraft for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition against Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

Even some of Trump’s closest allies in Congress rebuked him for the emergency sale. Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Todd Young, R-Ind., joined Democrats in introducing a series of resolutions to block the sale. While the moves to block the sales narrowly cleared the Republican-held Senate, Trump vetoed the measures.  

What’s next:  The chairman and top Democrat of the respective House and Senate foreign affairs committees — Eliot Engel of New York and Bob Menendez of New Jersey — have launched a probe into Trump’s ouster of Linick. And last week the Pentagon announced another $2 billion contract for Boeing to produce missiles for Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Know more:  Congressional correspondent Bryant Harris obtained the original memo that the Trump administration used to justify the emergency arms sale last year. The State Department’s Iran coordinator, Brian Hook, appeared to contradict that justification months later by downplaying Iran’s influence over the Houthis. The White House has also withheld information from the Government Accountability Office’s investigation into Saudi nuclear negotiations.

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