Watchdog report: Pompeo acted properly in Saudi arms sale

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivers a speech during a ceremony at the General Patton memorial in Pilsen near Prague, Czech Republic, Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in Czech Republic at the start of a four-nation tour of Europe. Slovenia, Austria and Poland are the other stations of the trip. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek, Pool)
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivers a speech during a ceremony at the General Patton memorial in Pilsen near Prague, Czech Republic, Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in Czech Republic at the start of a four-nation tour of Europe. Slovenia, Austria and Poland are the other stations of the trip. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek, Pool)

WASHINGTON – The State Department's internal watchdog has found that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not act improperly last year when he approved billions of dollars in arms sales to Saudi Arabia without the consent of Congress.

The State Department Office of Inspector General concluded in a report released Tuesday that Pompeo had the legal authority to declare an emergency and bypass Congress under the Arms Export Control Act.

Republicans joined with Democrats in Congress to oppose the sales, but President Donald Trump, who has made close relations to Saudi Arabia a priority, vetoed resolutions in July 2019 to block the transfers and there were not enough votes to override him.

The inspector general report itself has become the focus of congressional scrutiny after former Inspector General Steve Linick, who was removed from his post in May by Trump, testified to Congress that senior State Department officials had sought to block his inquiry.

Senior State Department officials have said Linick was removed from his watchdog position for leaking another report and not because of his probe of the arms sales, which came amid bipartisan congressional concerns about civilian casualties in the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

At least one prominent congressional critic, New York Rep. Eliot Engel, cautioned before the report's release that it should be treated with skepticism. He noted that it features a classified annex that the public can't read and that the State Department official in charge of arms sales review has declined to answer questions from a committee investigating Linick's ouster.

Engel, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, dismissed the emergency certification used to authorize the sales as “phony.”

The report examined the process that Pompeo used to make the emergency certification. Pompeo cited the threat posed by Iran and its support for rebels in Yemen to justify approving arms sales totaling $8.1 billion to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.