Intel: State Department official 'tried to bully' watchdog reviewing Saudi arms sale

al-monitor US State Department Inspector General Steve Linick departs after briefing House and Senate Intelligence committees at the US Capitol in Washington, Oct. 2, 2019.  Photo by REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst.
Bryant Harris

Bryant Harris

@brykharris_ALM

Topics covered

Trump

Yemen war

Jun 10, 2020

The independent watchdog ousted by President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that a high-ranking State Department official “tried to bully” him in part because of his review of last year’s emergency arms sale for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Former State Department Inspector General Steve Linick told lawmakers that Undersecretary of State for Management Mike Bulatao had sought to dissuade him from conducting a review of the $8 billion emergency arms sale that Trump and Pompeo approved last year, according to a transcript released today.

Why it matters: Linick said Bulatao had told him it wasn’t appropriate to look into the emergency arms sale certification for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates “because it was a review of policy.” The ousted watchdog countered that the inspector general has the authority to “review how policy is implemented.”

“We were not judging whether the policy was good or bad,” said Linick. “We are nonpartisan. We just look at how policies are carried out and whether they comport with applicable regulations and law.”

The House Foreign Affairs Committee had asked Linick to review the $8 billion emergency sale, which reportedly factored into Pompeo’s decision to recommend removing the inspector general. Congress passed three resolutions to block the sale to the Saudis and Emiratis amid concerns over the Yemen war, but lawmakers did not have enough votes to override Trump’s vetoes. Pompeo, who refused Linick’s request to do an in-person interview about the sale, doubled down on his denial that the removal was retaliatory today, deriding the former inspector general as “a bad actor.”

The transcript shows Linick to be in Republican crosshairs over allegations that the inspector general’s office leaked an investigation concerning Brian Hook, the State Department’s Iran policy coordinator, to the press. Media reports on the inspector general’s rebuke of Hook for reassigning a staffer of Iranian descent emerged last year before the watchdog officially issued the report. Linick said that Bulatao was “very upset” over the advance press reports and that he resisted the undersecretary’s attempts to have the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security investigate the leak.

What’s next: Despite the ongoing review into last year’s emergency arms sale, the Trump administration is preparing another large Saudi weapons deal.

Know more: The Trump administration and Congress are also embroiled in another fight over Saudi policy. Democrats are launching a bid to force the intelligence community to declassify a report listing every Saudi official complicit in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, Bryant Harris reports.
 

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