Engel: IG report shows Pompeo’s ‘sham’ use of emergency declaration in arms sales

Aaron Schwartz

The top Democrat with oversight of the State Department said Tuesday that a watchdog report makes clear that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo abused his authority to push through billions of dollars in arms sales to allies in the Middle East without the approval of Congress.

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the committee, said the report from the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), which was published Tuesday, throws into question Pompeo’s declaration of an emergency in May 2019, citing a months-long timeline and a delay on delivery of the weapons as evidence.

Pompeo and State Department officials have held up the findings of the OIG report as a victory confirming that the secretary and agency acted within their authority to sell over $8 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E. and Jordan to “deter Iranian aggression” in May 2019. 

At that time, the emergency declaration allowed the Trump administration to go around Congress, which was working to block the weapons sales over concerns for human rights abuses and civilian casualties from the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen,  as well as punishing Riyadh for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.

The OIG report did say the secretary acted within his authority to push through the weapons sales, but criticized the Department for not doing enough to ensure American weapons were not used against civilians.

Yet Engel argued that the details of the OIG report raise questions over the secretary’s motivations for the declaration.

“No one ever doubted that the law provides for the authority to expedite the sale of weapons in the case of an emergency. The question was always, ‘Did the administration abuse that authority in order to ram through more than $8 billion in sales to Gulf countries?’ Engel said in a statement.

“The IG didn’t offer an opinion on that. But the report’s details signal a resounding, ‘Yes.’ I presume that’s why the Department insisted on redacting the most salient information and trying to tell us what the report said before it was out.”

An unredacted version of the report was sent to all members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and, in a copy obtained by The Hill, revealed the timeline of the preparations for the emergency declaration not initially seen in the redacted version.

The details of the unredacted report were first reported by Politico.

The OIG report pointed out that by March 2019, congressional holds had blocked at least 16 weapons transfers to Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E.

In the unredacted timeline, the OIG said that in early April, Pompeo requested his staff to look into how the Department could move forward on transferring arms sales and was presented with the idea of the emergency declaration.

On May 4, Pompeo instructed his staff to prepare the certification for May 24.

The timeline continues that Pompeo briefed Congress on the Iranian threat on May 21 and then announced the emergency declaration as planned on May 24.

The report further detailed the weapons sent under the emergency declaration and the timing of their delivery. The OIG found that Precision Guided Munitions were the first weapons transferred under the declaration. The OIG, in its report, criticized the agency for not doing more to ensure that the PGM’s were not at risk of use that would harm civilians.

The OIG found that at the time of its review, only $20 million of the $3.9 billion of the foreign military sales included in the emergency had been implemented. The report also found that five of the expected 22 arms transfers would not be available until 2020 or later.

“What sort of emergency makes itself known a few months in advance and can be resolved with weapons delivered years later?” Engel asked in his statement Tuesday, and called the use of the emergency declaration a “sham”.

“This report tells us everything we suspected: the emergency was a sham. It was cooked up to get around congressional review of a bad policy choice. And ever since Mr. Pompeo declared that ‘emergency,’ he and his top lieutenants have worked to bury the truth,” he said.

The State Department in a Tuesday statement reiterated that the OIG report found Pompeo acted within the guidelines of the emergency declaration.

“As the Secretary made clear in May of 2019 in the Emergency Certification, the situation in the Gulf very clearly justified the use of the statutory authority in the Arms Export Control Act,” a State Department spokesperson said. “And after the report from the Office of Inspector General, it is clear the IG also agrees that statutory requirements were complied with, as they found no wrongdoing in the emergency arms sales and stated clearly that the Secretary properly executed the certification and complied with the requirements outlined in the Arms Export Control Act.”

Democrats are also focused on the OIG’s findings as part of their probe into the circumstances surrounding President Trump’s abrupt firing, at the request of Pompeo, of the State Department’s Inspector General Steve Linick in mid-May.

Linick had initiated the investigation into the Saudi arms sales at the request of Congress.

Engel is leading the probe along with the chair of the House’s committee on oversight and reform, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.).

Pompeo, while on official travel in Europe, took to Twitter to hold up the report as exonerating the Department and criticized Engel and Menendez as misusing their committees “for political games.”

Menendez shot back that the report showed there was “no national security emergency.”

“The truth is there was no national security emergency…unless your coddling of the Saudi Crown Prince counts as one. Stop redacting & gaslighting to avoid accountability. Less caterwauling over Congressional oversight, please,” he wrote on Twitter

Tags Bob Menendez Carolyn Maloney Donald Trump Eliot Engel Mike Pompeo Saudi Arabia

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