State says it will be cleared by watchdog report

The State Department on Monday said a report from the Office of Inspector General will say the agency did nothing wrong when it used emergency powers to sell billions of dollars of weapons to allies in the Middle East without the approval of Congress.

Democrats asked last year for the report, which has yet to be released.

Sarah Breen, spokesperson for the OIG, said unclassified portions of the report would be published on Tuesday. 

State said the OIG report confirmed that the Department acted “in complete accordance with the law and found no wrongdoing in the Administration’s exercise of emergency authorities available under the Arms Export Control Act (AECA).”

The comment on an unpublished report is unusual and it drew the ire of Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), who said the agency’s “pre-spin” on the unpublished report “reeks of an attempt to distract and mislead.”

Engel named the senior State Department official that briefed reporters on the unpublished watchdog report as Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs Clarke Cooper, taking issue that Cooper was part of the probe and not the author of the report. 

Cooper had earlier told reporters that the agency was offering comment on the unpublished report to alert people to its existence.

“We’re just making sure that people are tracking that the report’s out,” Cooper said.

The report is a key part of a Democratic investigation into President Trump’s abrupt firing of agency watchdog Steve Linick in mid-May.

Democrats say they are concerned Linick was fired, in part, for probing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s use of emergency powers in May 2019 to push through $8 billion in weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan. 

“From the beginning we have been seeking the truth about why an emergency declaration was used to sell weapons to the Saudis and the UAE when there was no emergency,” Engel said in a statement. “Hopefully, the IG report will shed light on that question. However, the American people still deserve answers about why Mr. Linick was fired and why the State Department is trying to hide the facts about why he was fired and what he was investigating. I remain determined to get those answers.”

Linick told House lawmakers that a top aide to Pompeo, under secretary of State for management Brian Bulatao, attempted to “bully” him over the investigation. 

The report was viewed as almost complete before Linick’s ousting, the senior State Department official said.

Following Linick’s ousting in May, the responsibility of the report fell under acting inspector general Stephen Ackard, who recused himself from the investigation and passed it on to his deputy, Diana Shaw.

Shaw took over as acting inspector general last week, with Ackard resigning to “return home,” Pompeo said at the time.

Pompeo, who pushed the president to fire Linick, has denied that he was aware, at the time of Linick’s ousting, that he was being investigated. But he also said he provided written answers in January to Linick related to an investigation.

Pompeo has rejected the idea that he fired Linick in retaliation for any investigation. The inspector general was also probing whether the secretary and his wife misused federal resources for personal benefit.

The secretary has said that Linick was undermining the mission of the State Department and was not acting the way that the secretary wanted him to act.

But the arms deal has become an important piece of Democrats’ probe into Pompeo’s push for Linick’s ousting.

Engel had delayed a July hearing with Bulatao in anticipation of the report.

Engel last week, along with Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), issued subpoenas to four of Pompeo’s top officials as part of their investigation.

Pompeo rejected the subpoenas, NBC News reported last week, in a letter accusing the Democratic lawmakers leading the investigation of failing to accommodate agency requests for the interviews. 

Tags Bob Menendez Carolyn Maloney Donald Trump Eliot Engel Mike Pompeo

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