79°F
weather icon Mostly Cloudy

Fired watchdog was looking into Saudi arms sale, Democrats say

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 executive branch 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, but 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.

Media leaks in question

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.

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 phony 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.

“This removal is part of a pattern of undermining the integrity of the Inspectors General and therefore our government,” Pelosi wrote.

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.

“An expression of lost confidence, without further explanation, is not sufficient to fulfill the requirements of the IG Reform Act,” Grassley said in a letter to Trump. “This is in large part because 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.”

Over the weekend, congressional aides had suggested that it may have been prompted by a probe into allegations that the secretary 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. “The priorities are really screwed up.”

“I’d rather have him on the phone with some world leader than have him wash dishes,” Trump added.

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.

Emergency loophole

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.

There was precedent for using the emergency exemption for arms sales to Saudi Arabia. President Ronald Reagan invoked it in the 1980s, and Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush used it for sales before the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 Iraq War.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Nevada gyms, bars that do not serve food can reopen Friday - VIDEO
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak on Tuesday evening said Phase 2 of the state’s Nevada United: Roadmap to Recovery will begin on Friday. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada Rep. Horsford admits to having affair - VIDEO
Nevada Congressman Steven Horsford admitted to having an affair with Gabriela Linder, a former intern for Sen. Harry Reid. Linder detailed her account of the affair in a podcast she called, "Mistress for Congress." (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sisolak says businesses will begin reopening under phase 1 - VIDEO
The first phase of reopening Nevada’s businesses will begin Saturday, May 9, Gov. Steve Sisolak said Thursday. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Joe Biden denies Tara Reade's sexual assault allegation - VIDEO
The former senate aide claims Biden assaulted her in 1993 when he was a senator. Biden first denied the accusations via a public post on Medium. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
RJ interview with Sisolak on the reopening plan for Nevada - VIDEO
The Las Vegas Review-Journal interviewed Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak on the plan for reopening Nevada during the coronavirus pandemic. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sisolak reacts to Goodman CNN interview- VIDEO
Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman repeated her call to immediately reopen businesses during an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Wednesday, leading to a reaction from Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sisolak praises Nevadans for staying at home, saving lives - VIDEO
Gov. Steve Sisolak said Thursday it’s still too early to know when the state’s COVID-19 shutdown orders could be lifted or when businesses could start to reopen their doors. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trump gives governors 3-phase approach to open US - VIDEO
President Donald Trump declared victory in America’s war against the “invisible enemy” as the president’s Coronavirus Task Force released “Opening up America Again” guidelines. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trump names Jacky Rosen to task force on reopening economy - VIDEO
President Donald Trump named Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., to be a member of his Opening Up America Again Congressional Group Thursday to advise him on coronavirus policy. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders endorses Joe Biden for president - VIDEO
On April 13, former presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders announced his official endorsement of former Vice President Joe Biden. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders drops out of 2020 Democratic race for president - VIDEO
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont officially announced an end to his 2020 presidential bid on Wednesday. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Democratic National Convention postponed - VIDEO
The Democratic National Convention was set to take place over four days in the middle of July. Democratic officials have now confirmed the convention will take place the week of Aug. 17. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Henderson allows immediate sale of alcohol with curbside pickup - VIDEO
The city of Henderson decided Thursday evening to allow alcohol to be sold by restaurants as part of their curbside pickup service during the COVID-19 crisis. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sisolak signs order banning any gathering of 10 or more people - VIDEO
Gov. Steve Sisolak on Tuesday signed a new order banning any gathering of 10 or more people in Nevada in another step the state has taken to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Takeaways from the president's daily briefing on coronavirus - VIDEO
RJ Washington correspondent Debra Saunders talks about today's daily White House news conference regarding the coronavirus outbreak, Friday, March 20, 2020. (Renee Summerour/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Judicial Department 5 Debate - Video
The Las Vegas Review-Journal hosts a debate between the 3 candidates running for Department 5 in Clark County District Court. Participating are Veronica M. Barisich, Terry A. Coffing and Blair Cowan Parker.
Trump cancels Las Vegas trip because of ‘coronavirus outbreak’ - VIDEO
President Donald Trump canceled planned travel to Las Vegas ‘out of an abundance of caution’ amid virus outbreak. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trump signs $8.3 billion coronavirus package - VIDEO
President Trump signed a bill providing $8.3 billion in emergency funding to combat the coronavirus outbreaK, Friday, March 6, 2020. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sen. Cortez Masto shows support for Judge Togliatti - VIDEO
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto shows her support for senior state District Court Judge Jennifer Togliatti to be appointed to the federal bench in Nevada. (Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto)
Sen. Rosen supports Judge Togliatti - VIDEO
Sen. Jacky Rosen shows her support for Nevada Judge Jennifer Togliatti to be appointed to the federal bench. (Sen. Jacky Rosen)
MSNBC’s Chris Matthews resigns following series of controversies - VIDEO
The "Hardball" host announced his departure Monday night, March 2, 2020, effective immediately. The anchor recently came under fire for comparing Sen. Bernie Sanders’ victory in the Nevada caucasus to the Nazi conquest of France in 1940. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Candidates file for office in Clark County - VIDEO
Amy Klobuchar drops out of 2020 presidential race - VIDEO
On March 2, campaign officials announced Amy Klobuchar’s decision to suspend her presidential bid. The news comes on the eve of Super Tuesday and just one day after Pete Buttigieg also announced his decision to depart from the race. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
THE LATEST
Trump praises Secret Service, says ‘vicious dogs’ were ready

President Donald Trump on Saturday claimed that many Secret Service agents were “just waiting for action” and ready to unleash “the most vicious dogs, and the most ominous weapons, I have ever seen” if protesters angered by his response to George Floyd’s death had crossed the White House’s security fence.

Secretary of state: Mail ballots distributed properly

The Nevada secretary of state’s office took an extra step Friday to clarify “ongoing confusion” over the all-vote-by-mail June 9 state primary, seeking to clarify misunderstandings over how mail ballots have been distributed.

Nevada faces even larger budget cuts

Gov. Steve Sisolak’s administration is asking for even deeper budget cuts in the coming fiscal year than those already announced as the state struggles with huge drops in revenue because of the coronavirus-triggered business shutdown.