Top Democrat: Trump administration pursuing new Saudi arms sale

Top Democrat: Trump administration pursuing new Saudi arms sale
© Stefani Reynolds

The Trump administration is pursuing another arms sale to Saudi Arabia, a top Democratic senator said Wednesday, amid a previous controversial arms sale coming under new scrutiny.

In an op-ed published on CNN’s website Wednesday, Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezSenators ask for removal of tariffs on EU food, wine, spirits: report VOA visa decision could hobble Venezuela coverage Bottom line MORE (D-N.J.) said he has received a draft document that shows the administration is pursuing a previously undisclosed sale.

“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,” Menendez wrote.

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“The administration has refused to answer our fundamental questions to justify this new sale and articulate how it would be consistent with U.S. values and national security objectives,” he added.

The State Department declined to comment on the op-ed, with a spokesperson saying that “as a matter of policy, we do not comment upon or confirm proposed defense sales until they have been formally notified to Congress.”

Menendez’s op-ed comes as a 2019 arms deal with the Saudis and other Gulf allies is under new scrutiny following President TrumpDonald John TrumpUPS, FedEx shut down calls to handle mail-in ballots, warn of 'significant' problems: report Controversial GOP Georgia candidate attempts to distance from QAnon Trump orders TikTok parent company to sell US assets within 90 days MORE’s firing of State Department Inspector General Steve Linick. After Linick was fired, congressional Democrats revealed he was investigating the sales and suggested his ouster was related to the investigation.

The 22 arms sales, worth $8.1 billion, were controversial because Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoUN Security Council rejects US bid to extend Iran arms embargo Overnight Defense: US seizes Iranian fuel bound for Venezuela | Progressives cool on Biden's foreign policy | Takeaways from Israel, UAE opening diplomatic ties Whiskey, workers and friends caught in the trade dispute crossfire MORE invoked little-used emergency authorities to push them through without a 30-day congressional review period.

Before the emergency declaration, lawmakers had been using an informal process to block the sales from proceeding over their fury at the Saudis’ killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, as well as over concerns about civilian casualties in the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

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In invoking the emergency, Pompeo cited threats from Iran. But opponents of the sales argued that was a pretext. 

Congress eventually passed resolutions to block the sales, but Trump vetoed them.

“Today, a year later, there is still no justification for the US to sell bombs to Saudi Arabia,” Menendez wrote in his op-ed. “That is why I am particularly troubled that the State Department has again refused to explain the need to sell thousands more bombs to Saudi Arabia on top of the thousands that have yet to be delivered from last year's ‘emergency.’"

"The secretary of state needs to answer our questions," he continued. "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?”