Wednesday, September 16, 2020

US House Democrats question Pompeo aides on Saudi weapons

Top aides to United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went before a Congressional panel on Wednesday to defend President Donald Trump's decision to fire the former Department of State inspector general while he was investigating weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and allegations that Pompeo misused department funds.

Trump abruptly fired Steve Linick from his position as the State Department's watchdog on May 15, as he investigated the administration's decision to pursue billions of dollars in military sales to Saudi Arabia despite congressional opposition.

Members of Congress had objected to the transactions out of concern they would exacerbate the huge humanitarian cost of the war in Yemen, possibly leaving US officials vulnerable to war crimes charges.

"Did Mr Pompeo fire [Linick] because he was getting closer and closer to matters that were embarrassing for Mr Pompeo and his family ... matters that implicated the State Department in a scheme to bypass Congress and sell lethal weapons that might be used for war crimes?" asked Representative Eliot Engel, the Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.

Linick's firing was one of a series of Trump's dismissals of officials responsible for preventing fraud and abuse at government agencies. The firings prompted concern among members of Congress, including some of Trump's fellow Republicans, over whether Trump was interfering with legitimate oversight.

"The news of Inspector General Linick's firing did come as a surprise ... Any time one is terminated, it naturally will raise some questions," said Representative Michael McCaul, the committee's top Republican.

However, he noted that inspectors general (IG's), like other executive branch officials, serve at the pleasure of the president.

Linick was also investigating allegations that Pompeo and his wife Susan misused government resources by having department staff handle personal

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