“They seemed to have a game plan, and it had to be justified,” said a State Department official who told CNN that during an interview with the watchdog at the end of last year, they told what had happened to the Office of the Inspector General of the State Department Investigation into Pompeo’s plan to accelerate sales.
“The attitude was very Trumpian,” added the official.
Pompeo’s request meant that State Department officials had to reverse the situation to justify a decision taken in an aggressive and unconventional manner
The chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat, believes the investigation could be one of the reasons Linick was fired.
Pompeo told reporters on Wednesday that any allegations that his recommendation to fire Linick were retaliation were “obviously wrong”. None of the sources knew whether the IG investigation into the Saudi arms sale prompted Pompeo to recommend Linick’s dismissal.
In the State Department, Pompeo’s command upset the offices – with the regional office, the military political office, and the legal department to find out how the emergency could be justified.
During this time there was dismay within the department and at the Pentagon, but the sources do not suggest a robust debate between the authorities. The quick decision to use the emergency order did not allow for a thorough discussion of the sale between the various government agencies involved, the State Department sources said.
“It seemed to us [the Trump administration] were determined to turn Khashoggi around a corner (referring to the Saudi journalist murdered in Istanbul). The message was that we have to go ahead and provide the support, “said the first official from the State Department.” It was an incredible demonstration of audacity. “
The State Department did not respond to a request for comment.
The arms control export law broadly defines the powers of an emergency declaration and gives those who interpret it immense scope. The President is said to be able to determine that “there is an emergency” that requires immediate sale “in the interests of the United States’ national security”.
“We can discuss the motivation or merit for it, but it is not illegal,” said a second State Department official familiar with the matter.
Traditionally, it is the demand for certain weapons due to intense and immediate threats – such as occur during the war if you can’t wait 30 days for Congress to approve – that trigger the use of the declaration.
Anger of the legislature
For months, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle had blocked arms sales to Saudi Arabia, angered by the enormous civilian casualties that the kingdom and its allies inflicted on their war in Yemen. The standoff began in June 2018 when Senator Robert Menendez, the senior democratic member of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, stopped selling certain precision-guided ammunition to Saudi Arabia.
Congress anger increased after Saudi Arabia murdered the Washington Post journalist and U.S.-based Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018 – a murder found by U.S. intelligence agencies was ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
In a letter to the legislator on May 24, Pompeo said he had “determined there was an emergency that required the immediate sale of the defense equipment and services” to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan to counter the malicious influence of to further prevent the Iranian government across the Middle East, “including its support for Houthi rebels in Yemen, according to a copy received from CNN. Pompeo also said in a statement that a delay in weapons would do serious damage to the country’s current defense systems .
The arms control export law does not require the president to identify certain conditions that cause the emergency, but requires that he provide detailed justification.
Pompeo’s move triggered an immediate bipartisan legislative rebound, and many wondered if there was a legitimate emergency. On June 5, a bipartisan coalition of senators introduced 22 joint resolutions to disapprove of the planned arms sales.
When the legislature expressed frustration at the announcement, Pompeo tried to reassure them that he intended this “determination as a one-off event”. He also noted that the provision had been applied by at least four previous administrations since 1979 and said, “This specific measure does not change our long-standing arms transfer review process with Congress.”
Democrats demand more information
Now the Democrats on the hill are demanding more details on why the decision to explain the emergency was made. In particular, there were concerns because the emergency statement was made for total sales of $ 8 billion, not just a small portion that the Saudis needed immediately.
“The law is broad, but an emergency means something in the broadest sense,” said a congressional assistant. “It is outrageous to argue that an emergency would require a $ 8 billion sale of weapons of this type, in which most of the weapons were not built. Some licenses were even granted to build those weapons in Saudi Arabia. It’s ridiculous, “added the adjutant. “You could have followed the normal procedure and Congress couldn’t have stopped it, but Congress could have weighed it up.”
The emergency statement is rarely used. It has been called several times throughout history – most recently President George H.W. Bush used it to speed up arms sales to Saudi Arabia during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
It is unclear whether Pompeo was ordered by the White House to speed up the sale or whether he and his advisors made the call on their own initiative.
Pompeo told reporters that he had given IG written responses to their request earlier this year, but hadn’t said what their questions were about. The New York Times reported that these written responses were part of an IG investigation into accelerated arms sales in Saudi Arabia.
Months after the emergency statement was made, Marik String, a senior official at the Politico-Military Affairs Office, who had been working with Pompeo on the matter at the time, became the department’s legal advisor.
CNN’s Zachary Cohen and Nicole Gaouette contributed to this report.