Democrats release key interview in Pompeo probe

The top Democrats on three congressional committees on Tuesday released their full interview with a former State Department official as part of their probe into the circumstances surrounding the abrupt dismissal of the agency’s internal watchdog. 

The interview with Charles Faulkner, a former senior official in the State Department’s bureau of legislative affairs, centered on Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoHaley has 'positive' meeting with Trump No time for the timid: The dual threats of progressives and Trump Psaki: Sexism contributes to some criticism of Harris MORE’s use of an emergency declaration last year to sell $8 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia and other allies in the Middle East. The sale bypassed the approval of Congress. 

The secretary’s emergency declaration was the subject of an investigation by State Department Inspector General Steve Linick. The probe was nearing its completion when Linick was fired.

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That IG report was released last month under acting Inspector General Diana Shaw. It found that Pompeo acted within his authority to authorize the weapons sales, but faulted the agency for not taking more steps to reduce risk to civilian casualties in conflict zones. 

The State Department has pointed to the report's conclusions as an exoneration.

Nicole Thompson, a spokesperson with the State Department’s Press Office, said the Office of Inspector General “has confirmed in a final report that the Department acted in complete accordance with the law and found no wrongdoing” in the administration’s use of the emergency declaration for the arms sales. 

Yet Democrats argue it underscores that Pompeo is using the agency as his own fiefdom. They've expanded their probe into Linick’s ousting to further investigate the secretary’s use of the emergency declaration.

“Mr. Faulkner’s testimony shows that before Secretary Pompeo had Inspector General Linick fired, the [Office of Inspector General] was looking at the connection between Congress’s concerns about civilian casualties in Yemen and the administration’s use of the emergency authority to ignore those concerns and get around congressional objections,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelLawmakers pay tribute to Colin Powell NYC snafu the latest flub from a broken elections agency Cynthia Nixon backs primary challenger to Rep. Carolyn Maloney MORE (D-N.Y.), House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn MaloneyFormer Washington Football Team cheerleaders, employees to protest outside stadium Oversight panel eyes excessive bail, jail overcrowding in New York City Senators call for Smithsonian Latino, women's museums to be built on National Mall MORE (D-N.Y.), and Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezFive ways Senate could change Biden's spending plan Spending bill faces Senate scramble Republicans raise concerns over Biden's nominee for ambassador to Germany MORE (N.J.), the top Democrat on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said in a joint statement.

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In highlighted testimony, Faulkner said concern for civilian casualties at the hands of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen was shared among multiple bureaus of the State Department and raised in multiple meetings with groups outside the government.

“I can't name people who weren't concerned about it,” Faulkner said of civilian casualties, according to the transcript. “I think everyone that I'm aware of was concerned about the loss of life.” 

Congress had sought to block the weapons sales over concern they could be used against civilians, and as a rebuke towards Riyadh for the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. 

Democrats are raising concern that Pompeo manufactured an emergency to push through the weapons sales and said Faulkner’s testimony “undercuts the administration’s explanation for the emergency declaration — details that the Department sought to redact and keep hidden from the public in the final OIG report.” 

A timeline provided in an unredacted version of the IG report, and obtained by The Hill, documented that Pompeo had asked his aides to find a way for the Department to push through weapons sales that were being blocked by Congress.

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The idea for an emergency declaration was raised in early April 2019, about seven weeks before the secretary first raised the issue of Iranian threats with Congress that were the basis of the emergency declaration. 

Faulkner, in his testimony, said he told the Inspector General that he was approached in April 2019 by Marik String, then a senior official in the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, to provide a legal justification for an emergency arms sales declaration. 

“Marik informed me that the PM Bureau had identified an authority that was available, and that we should explore options for decision makers,” Faulkner said in his testimony. 

On the day Pompeo authorized the emergency declaration, May 24, String was promoted from his policy position to acting legal adviser at State.

Democrats have issued a subpoena for String’s testimony, and that of two other top aides to Pompeo, including Brian Bulatao, under secretary of State for management; String; and Michael Miller, who serves as deputy assistant secretary of State for political-military affairs. 

Pompeo senior adviser Toni Porter responded to a subpoena and sat before the committee earlier this month. 

Updated: 4:44 p.m.