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State Department says Pompeo cleared in emergency Saudi arms sale

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attends a news conference at the State Department on Aug. 5. (Pool/Reuters)

A final report signed by the acting inspector general found that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not violate the law when he declared a state of emergency to bypass congressional refusal to approve an $8 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia, the State Department said Monday.

Describing an ongoing congressional investigation of Pompeo’s action as an “inquisition,” a department statement called for lawmakers to “publicly accept the findings of the report . . . and immediately retract” statements labeling it illegal.

The report was not publicly released or transmitted to House Democrats, who asked the inspector general to investigate the matter last summer. A senior State Department official who briefed reporters said its release was “imminent.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot L. Engel, noting that the official briefer was not a member of the inspector general’s office, said that “this obvious pre-spin of the findings reeks of an attempt to distract and mislead.”

In a statement, Engel (D-N.Y.) accused Pompeo of “pulling directly from the Bill Barr playbook,” an apparent reference to the attorney general’s release last year of his own exculpatory, pre-release “summary” of the conclusions of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report on his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign.

Democrats have alleged that Pompeo sought the ouster of Inspector General Steve Linick, who was fired by President Trump in May, because Linick was investigating Pompeo’s actions on the arms sale, as well as allegations that he had used State Department staff to conduct personal errands for him and his wife.

Pompeo has sharply denied the allegations and said Linick was fired because he was responsible for the leak of a separate report that found wrongful personnel actions within the department, and because of inadequate leadership. Linick has denied the leak came from the inspector general’s office.

But turmoil has continued in and around the office. Last week, the chairmen of the House Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees subpoenaed four senior State Department officials to discuss the arms sale issue and other allegations in the face of what they called department “stonewalling.”

The list included Undersecretary of State for Management Brian Bulatao, who Linick testified in June had “bullied” him in an attempt to derail the Saudi arms investigation.

Also last week, Linick’s acting successor, Stephen Akard, resigned from the State Department after serving only a few months in the job. Akard, who also continued to serve as head of the department’s office of foreign missions, recused himself from investigations of Pompeo.

The office is now temporarily headed by his deputy, Diana Shaw, who signed the Saudi arms report, according to the State Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity under rules imposed by the department.

Trump has fired several inspectors general this year, removing the independent executive branch watchdog — charged with investigating fraud, waste and abuse — over congressional objections.

Events leading to the arms investigation began in May 2019, when Pompeo declared an “emergency” to bypass a hold put on the $8 billion arms sale by senior lawmakers in both parties. Republicans and Democrats disapproved of the sale because of alleged Saudi human rights ­abuses in Yemen and the 2018 killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Pompeo said the emergency was justified because of the threat from Iran. Although the bulk of the weapons were destined for Saudi Arabia — including the transfer of technology to produce precision-guided munitions — some sales went to the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.

The following months, Lawmakers asked Linick to investigate the legality of Pompeo’s actions. The results of the investigation were preliminarily told to the State Department in November. Pompeo, who initially said he had known nothing about the inquiry, acknowledged earlier this year that he had submitted written answers to questions after declining a face-to-face interview.

The conclusions of the report were again told to the State Department in March, months before Linick’s departure. It was unclear why the report still has not been released.

In its written release and the official briefing, the State Department emphasized that the emergency authority used by Pompeo was delineated in the Arms Export Control Act and had been used by other presidents, including Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.

“The big takeaway” of the report, the senior official said, is that the inspector general “determined that the secretary used these authorities in accordance with the law.”

The Iranian threat, the official said, “has not abated.”