Trump administration considering new weapons sale to Saudi Arabia, top Democrat says
(CNN)The Trump administration is considering yet another weapons sale to Saudi Arabia despite the fact that it is facing scrutiny from congressional Democrats who believe Secretary of State Mike Pompeo may have recommended the firing of an independent watchdog because he was investigating the top US diplomat’s controversial decision to fast-track a previous arms deal to the Kingdom.
In a CNN op-ed Wednesday, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Menendez, said he discovered that the administration is pursuing a previously undisclosed arms sale to Saudi Arabia, which includes “thousands more precision-guided bombs to the President’s ‘friend,’ Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.”
“Before we went into pandemic lockdown, I received draft State Department documentation that it is now pursuing this previously undisclosed sale — details of which have not yet been made public — even though the Saudis seemingly want out of their failed and brutal war in Yemen, and despite the fact that a bipartisan majority in Congress rejected previous sales of these weapons,” the New Jersey Democrat wrote.
“The administration has refused to answer our fundamental questions to justify this new sale and articulate how it would be consistent with US values and national security objectives,” he added.”This is not an isolated problem,” Menendez said, pointing to the fact that the administration’s pursuit of a new weapons sale to Riyadh comes on the heals of President Donald Trump’s firing of State Department Inspector General Steve Linick.Menendez did not disclose how he obtained the documents.
The Daily Beast was first to report that the administration was considering a new arms sale to Saudi Arabia.”As a matter of policy, we do not comment upon or confirm proposed defense sales until they have been formally notified to Congress,” a State Department spokesperson said.CNN reported earlier this month that Linick had nearly completed an investigation into Pompeo’s move last May to bypass Congress and expedite billions of dollars in arms sales to various countries — including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — by declaring an emergency, he need to deter what it called “the malign influence” of Iran throughout the Middle East.
At the time, the move drew bipartisan condemnation, with lawmakers decrying the precedent it sets, questioning the administration’s claims of an emergency and raising the issue of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel said Pompeo may have asked for the removal of the watchdog who was looking into his handling of the arms sale. Linick’s Saudi Arabia investigation was first reported by The Washington Post.
“I have learned that there may be another reason for Mr. Linick’s firing. His office was investigating — at my request — Trump’s phony declaration of an emergency so he could send weapons to Saudi Arabia. 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,” Engel, a Democrat from New York, said in a statement to CNN this month.
Additionally, a congressional aide told CNN this month that Pompeo refused to sit for an interview with the State Department inspector general’s office as part of its probe into last year’s arms deal, a revelation that has only fueled more questions related to his motive for recommending Linick be fired.But despite facing scrutiny over last year’s arms sale to Saudi Arabia in the wake on Linick’s ouster, Menendez says the Trump administration is moving forward with another weapons sale to Saudi Arabia.
“Linick’s firing casts the first anniversary of that multi-billion dollar mistake into stark contrast. Not only has the President admitted to removing the IG at Pompeo’s behest, but the administration is also trying to get Congress to rubber stamp another massive sale of munitions to the Saudis. Congress has the ability to disapprove of the sale unless an emergency is declared — as it was last year,” Menendez wrote in Wednesday’s op-ed.”Last year’s ’emergency’ arms sales debacle should serve as a warning to prevent history from repeating itself,” he added.
“There was no emergency. It was a fabricated tale to reward an eager and unsavory customer of US arms.”Menendez said that the State Department has yet to provide justification for the US to sell bombs to Saudi Arabia and is calling on Pompeo to answer Congress’ questions related to this new potential sale.
“What is their reasoning to continue selling weapons to the Saudis? Why should Congress allow Trump to continue currying personal favor with a capricious Saudi despot who thinks he can butcher his critics without consequences?” Menendez wrote Wednesday.
“Ironically, that is why Inspectors General exist. They are key to a functioning democracy and their independence is paramount to conducting effective oversight of our federal agencies,” he added. “Not coincidentally, Pompeo choked that accountability mechanism when he had Inspector General Linick silenced. We still don’t know exactly why Pompeo did it, but we know that Linick was seeking answers to these questions.”