Top Pompeo aides to appear before House panel next week

Greg Nash

Three top aides to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will appear next week in an open hearing with the House Foreign Affairs Committee as part of the Democratic-led probe into the ouster of the State Department’s watchdog in mid-May, the chairman said on Thursday.  

Under Secretary of State for Management Brian Bulatao, acting legal adviser Marik String and Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs R. Clarke Cooper will testify on Sept. 16, committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) said. 

Each is a key witness for Democrats, who for months have been investigating the circumstances surrounding the abrupt firing of State Department Inspector General Steve Linick. President Trump dismissed Linick late on a Friday evening in May at Pompeo’s request.  

Democrats charge that Linick’s ouster could have amounted to an act of political retaliation, as the watchdog was conducting at least two investigations into Pompeo’s conduct — the secretary’s use of an emergency declaration to sell more than $8 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan without the approval of Congress, and whether Pompeo and his wife misused federal resources for personal benefit.  

They have already conducted at least three interviews with top State Department officials, including Linick, former State Department official Charles Faulkner and top Pompeo aide Toni Porter.  

Democrats are particularly keen to interview Bulatao, a close ally of Pompeo whose friendship with the secretary dates back to their time at West Point and who was the official who informed Linick that he was fired. 

Bulatao was also the official at the State Department who had the greatest interaction with Linick and knowledge of ongoing probes, raising the question for Democrats of whether Bulatao discussed these with the secretary. 

Pompeo has denied that he was aware the inspector general was investigating his and his wife’s use of federal funds and has defended his call for Linick’s ousting, saying the watchdog was a “bad actor.” 

Linick, in his testimony to the House panel after he was fired, said Bulatao attempted to bully him into dropping the investigation into the arms sales. 

Despite Linick’s ouster, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) carried out the arms sale investigation, publishing a report last month that found Pompeo acted within his authority to declare an emergency but faulted the State Department for not doing more to prevent civilian casualties in conflict zones. 

Democrats said the release of the OIG report proved Pompeo’s use of the emergency declaration was a “sham” and have widened their probe into Linick’s firing to include officials directly related to the arms sales.

String, the State Department’s acting legal adviser, was fingered in previous testimony as the official who first identified the emergency declaration as a possible solution to selling weapons to Saudi Arabia.

An unredacted version of the the OIG report obtained by The Hill showed that Pompeo had asked as early as April 2019 for State Department officials to devise a way around congressional holds on weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, put in place over concern for civilian casualties in Yemen’s civil war from the Saudi-led coalition, and to punish Riyadh for its role in the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. 

String was serving as an official in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs when he made the recommendation for the emergency declaration and was promoted to acting legal adviser on the day Pompeo announced the move, May 24, 2019. 

The timeline released in the OIG report, that an emergency declaration was being discussed as early as April, has raised further questions for Democrats over whether Cooper, the assistant secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs, lied to Congress.

Cooper said in testimony in front of the House panel in June 2019 that an emergency necessitating the use of the declaration to sell weapons had occurred over the course of two to three days in May.  

“I’m glad that these witnesses have agreed to voluntarily appear before the Committee to provide more information on Mr. Linick’s firing,” Engel said in a statement. 

“We will have much to discuss next Wednesday.”

Tags Donald Trump Eliot Engel Mike Pompeo
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