Overnight Defense: State Dept. watchdog was investigating emergency Saudi arms sales before ouster | Pompeo says he requested watchdog be fired for 'undermining' department | Pensacola naval base shooter had 'significant ties' to al Qaeda, Barr says

Overnight Defense: State Dept. watchdog was investigating emergency Saudi arms sales before ouster | Pompeo says he requested watchdog be fired for 'undermining' department | Pensacola naval base shooter had 'significant ties' to al Qaeda, Barr says
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Happy Monday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Rebecca Kheel, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

THE TOPLINE: The State Department inspector general who was fired Friday night was investigating the Trump administration’s controversial use of emergency powers to push through arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelThe Memo: Trump agenda rolls on amid pandemic State Department scrutiny threatens Pompeo's political ambitions House Democrats object to Trump sending ventilators to Russia MORE (D-N.Y.) revealed the investigation Monday, suggesting that it may be tied to President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump retweets personal attacks on Clinton, Pelosi, Abrams Biden swipes at Trump: 'Presidency is about a lot more than tweeting from your golf cart' GOP sues California over Newsom's vote-by-mail order MORE’s decision to fire Steve Linick as the State Department’s inspector general.

“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,” Engel said in a statement.

“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," he added.

Flashback on arms sales: A year ago, the State Department invoked a little-used provision of the law governing arms sales to push through long-stalled deals with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates worth $8.1 billion.

A provision of the Arms Export Control Act allows arms sales to go through immediately without a 30-day congressional review period in cases of emergency. The Trump administration cited alleged threats from Iran to justify using the provision.

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.

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

In case you missed it Friday night: Trump informed Congress Friday night that he was firing Linick, who had served at the State Department’s inspector general since 2013.

Linick is the latest internal watchdog ousted by Trump following his removal of the intelligence community inspector general and demotion of the acting Pentagon inspector general.

Later Friday night, Engel said he had recently learned that Linick had recently opened up an investigation into Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoFormer British governor: China has betrayed Hong Kong The other dangerous virus infecting our country Hong Kong police fire tear gas at pro-democracy demonstrators MORE and suggested the firing was retaliation by the administration. The investigation is said to concern allegations Pompeo and his wife used a government staffer to conduct errands, such as walking his dog.

On Saturday, Engel and Senate Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezSenate panel approves Trump nominee under investigation Hillicon Valley: Trump threatens Michigan, Nevada over mail-in voting | Officials call for broadband expansion during pandemic | Democrats call for investigation into Uber-Grubhub deal Senate chairman schedules vote on Trump nominee under investigation MORE (D-N.J.) announced they were launching an investigation into Linick’s firing.

Pompeo, Trump defenses: On Monday, Pompeo told The Washington Post he did not know Linick was investigating his own conduct and that he'd recommended the firing because he believed Linick was “undermining” the work of the agency

“I went to the president and made clear to him that Inspector General Linick wasn’t performing a function in a way that we had tried to get him to, that was additive for the State Department, very consistent with what the statute says he’s supposed to be doing,” Pompeo said in a phone interview with The Post. “The kinds of activities he’s supposed to undertake to make us better, to improve us.”

Over at the White House, Trump said he fired Linick at Pompeo’s request, adding he agreed to do it in part because Linick was appointed by former President Obama.

"A lot of our people kept the Obama inspector general, and I think generally speaking that’s not a good thing to do. I told them for three years, I said anybody wants to get rid of their IGs because they’re appointed by President Obama, I think you should do so,” Trump said.

Trump also appeared unfamiliar with the investigations Linick was conducted, but after reporters explained, he did not see anything wrong.

"Here’s a man supposed to be negotiating war and peace with major, major countries with weaponry like the world has never seen before, and the Democrats and the fake news media they’re interested in a man who’s walking their dog," Trump said. "And maybe he’s busy. And maybe he’s negotiating with Kim Jong UnKim Jong UnKim Jong Un seeks to continue bolstering North Korea's nuclear capabilities, state media says Overnight Defense: State Dept. watchdog was investigating emergency Saudi arms sales before ouster | Pompeo says he requested watchdog be fired for 'undermining' department | Pensacola naval base shooter had 'significant ties' to al Qaeda, Barr says Trump says investigation into Pompeo shows 'screwed up' priorities MORE, OK, about nuclear weapons. So that he'd say, 'please could you walk my dog?'"

Trump also saw no issue with the Saudi arms sales that are being investigated.

"If somebody wants to give us billions of dollars to buy an airplane or a number of airplanes and missiles and all of the other things that we make better than anybody in the world, we should take the money, we should make the deals fast," Trump said.

 

PENSACOLA SHOOTING LINKED TO AL QAEDA: The Justice Department has uncovered evidence the Saudi military officer behind last year’s Pensacola Naval Air Station shooting had “significant ties” to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrTrump sides with religious leaders in fight against governors Senate Democrats call on Trump administration to let Planned Parenthood centers keep PPP loans Senate Republicans call on DOJ to investigate Planned Parenthood loans MORE said Monday.

Barr, who disclosed the details at a virtual press conference in Washington, said the evidence was uncovered after the FBI unlocked two iPhones belonging to Mohammed Alshamrani, the gunman who opened fire at the naval station last December.

“Thanks to the relentless efforts and ingenuity of FBI technicians, the FBI finally succeeded in unlocking Alshamrani’s phones,” Barr said. “The phones contained information previously unknown to us that definitively establishes Alshamrani’s significant ties to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, not only before the attack but before he even arrived in the United States.”

“We now have a clearer understanding of Alshamrani’s associations and activities in the years, months and days leading up to the attack,” he continued.

Officials were cautious about detailing the new information obtained from the phones, saying the investigation is ongoing. FBI Director Christopher Wray told reporters that the evidence showed Alshamrani was “more than just inspired” by AQAP.

DOJ vs. Apple: Barr and Wray on Monday both admonished Apple for not assisting the federal government in unlocking the phones, even though authorities obtained search warrants for their contents following the shooting last year.

Administration officials, including President Trump, pressed Apple months ago to assist law enforcement in unlocking the phones. Apple, which has maintained it will not provide a “backdoor” for law enforcement to access phones, contested accusations in January that it had not offered substantive assistance in the investigation.

The company said it provided iCloud backups, account information and transaction data as requested by the Department of Justice.

Barr said on Monday that Apple’s decision to manufacture its phones so that only users can unlock them “has dangerous consequences for the public safety and the national security.”

The company has maintained that any backdoor created for law enforcement would inevitably be accessed by malicious actors.

Pentagon comments: After the Justice Department announcement, Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperBirx: 'I'm very concerned when people go out and don't maintain social distancing' Roundup: Everything you need to know about COVID-19 today 125 lawmakers urge Trump administration to support National Guard troops amid pandemic MORE pledged unspecified further action to protect service members.

“The Department of Defense is incredibly grateful for the diligent work by the FBI team investigating this horrific attack that took the lives of three American patriots,” Esper said in a statement. “Based on the FBI findings, and in addition to already executed protective measures, the department will take further prudent and effective measures to safeguard our people.”

The Pentagon has already made several changes in the wake of the shooting, including new vetting procedures for foreign military students and new restrictions on their possession and use of firearms.

 

PENTAGON PREPS FOR LONG COVID BATTLE: Over the weekend, we took a look at how the Pentagon is preparing to live with coronavirus for the foreseeable future.

The Defense Department must accomplish a delicate balancing act: continuing essential missions such as the fight against ISIS, while keeping forces healthy enough that those missions aren’t adversely affected anyway.

Defense officials are acknowledging the coronavirus will be an obstacle at least until a vaccine is developed, so the military is preparing for a “new abnormal” environment where it can resume some activities that were slowed by the virus without risking the health of troops.

Read more here.

Latest numbers: The Pentagon reported another defense contractor killed by the coronavirus on Monday, bringing the number of contractors killed to eight. The Pentagon’s total death toll for service members, civilians, dependents and contractors is now 28.

In total, the number of Pentagon-connected cases of the virus were 8,636 on Monday. That includes 5,727 members of the military, including 123 hospitalizations and 2,821 recoveries.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The U.S. Naval War College, the Wilson Center's Polar Institute and the US Arctic Research Commission will host a virtual conference on “COVID-19 Impacts in the Arctic” starting at noon. https://bit.ly/3dYrFM9

Rep. Jim LangevinJames (Jim) R. LangevinOvernight Defense: State Dept. watchdog was investigating emergency Saudi arms sales before ouster | Pompeo says he requested watchdog be fired for 'undermining' department | Pensacola naval base shooter had 'significant ties' to al Qaeda, Barr says Lawmakers move to boost federal cybersecurity in annual defense bill Experts sound alarms about security as states eye online voting MORE (D-R.I.) will participate in an online event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies on “Who Makes Cyberspace Safe for Democracy?” at 12:30 p.m. https://bit.ly/3cIxDRf

On Thursday, May 21 The Hill hosts Advancing the American Economy, a national virtual summit to discuss a responsible reopening of the US economy. Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinFive questions about the next COVID-19 relief package Senate Republicans call on DOJ to investigate Planned Parenthood loans The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Surgeon General stresses need to invest much more in public health infrastructure, during and after COVID-19; Fauci hopeful vaccine could be deployed in December MORE joins Editor-in-Chief Bob CusackRobert (Bob) CusackThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Mnuchin: More COVID-19 congressional action ahead On The Money: Mnuchin sees 'strong likelihood' of needing another COVID-19 relief bill | 2.4 million more Americans file new jobless claims | Top bank regulator abruptly announces resignation Overnight Health Care: Trump says US won't close over second COVID-19 wave | Mnuchin sees 'strong likelihood' of needing another COVID-19 relief bill | Why the US has the most reported coronavirus cases in the world MORE for a headline interview followed by an afternoon of discussions with leading CEOs and national health experts. Additional speakers to be announced. Register Now!

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Trump rips WSJ editorial warning him not to be 'impulsive' on Afghanistan

-- The Hill: Senate Intel Committee to vote Tuesday on Ratcliffe's DNI nomination

-- The Hill: Eight more sailors from USS Roosevelt test positive for coronavirus a second time

-- Associated Press: Thousands defer plans to leave the military during crisis

-- Stars and Stripes: USS Theodore Roosevelt begins at-sea simulation nearly two months after coronavirus outbreak sidelined the carrier

-- New York Times: Why bombs made in America have been killing civilians in Yemen

-- Reuters: Afghan president and rival strike power-sharing deal after months of feuding