Washington — An investigation from the State Department’s inspector general into Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s emergency declaration to fast-track the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia, which was underway when its former Inspector General Steve Linick was fired, found Pompeo complied with requirements under federal law, but faulted the department for not doing more to reduce the risk of civilian casualties.
The State Department’s internal watchdog concluded that the “secretary’s emergency certification was executed in accordance with the” Arms Export Control Act. However, the inspector general found that the department “did not fully assess risks and implement mitigation measures to reduce civilian casualties and legal concerns associated with the transfer” of the precision-guided munitions sold to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The State Department’s Office of the Inspector General launched its investigation of the Trump administration’s arms sale to the Gulf nations in response to congressional requests. A central issue in the $8.1 billion weapons transfer was Pompeo’s emergency declaration in May 2019.
Congress had placed holds on the transfers, citing concerns about the high rate of civilian deaths in the ongoing conflict in Yemen and the October 2018 murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi by agents of the Saudi government. But Pompeo’s emergency declaration, which cited threats to the stability of the Middle East and U.S. national security posed by Iranian malign activity, allowed the Trump administration to bypass Congress and proceed with the arms deal.
The inspector general’s office, now led by Acting Inspector General Diana Shaw, said in its report that it did not evaluate whether the threats cited in the emergency declaration and associated memorandum constituted an emergency.
The watchdog, however, found most of the arms included in the secretary of state’s emergency certification had not been delivered at the time of its examination. The State Department’s inspector general also found the department “regularly approved arm transfers” to Saudi Arabia and the UAE that did not trigger the requirement for congressional notification under federal law. In all, the internal watchdog found the department approved 4,221 arms transfers, worth $11.2 billion, involving Saudi Arabia and the UAE since January 2017 that fell below the legal thresholds triggering notifications to Congress.
The investigation from the inspector general’s office into the Trump administration’s decision to green-light the Saudi arms deal took on added interest in the wake of Linick’s firing by President Trump in May. After his termination, which Pompeo said he recommended, House Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Eliot Engel revealed he requested Linick’s office review the secretary of state’s emergency declaration that paved the way for the transfer to proceed.
Linick told lawmakers in a closed-door interview in June that senior State Department officials knew his office was investigating two matters that touched on Pompeo’s conduct, one of which involved allegations of the secretary of state and his wife misusing government resources.
Linick also testified that Brian Bulatao, a close friend of Pompeo’s and the undersecretary of state for management at the State Department, and another senior department official urged his office not to examine the Saudi arms transfer.