State Department Clashes With Congress Over Saudi Arms Sales

August 12, 2020 Topic: Security Blog Brand: The Skeptics Tags: Mike PompeoSaudi ArabiaMilitarySecurityDefenseYemen

State Department Clashes With Congress Over Saudi Arms Sales

Rep. Eliot Engel (D–N.Y.) accused Mike Pompeo of a coverup.


House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Eliot Engel accused the State Department of trying to “spin and obscure the facts” in a “deeply damning” report about arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Congress has clashed with the Trump administration over its support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen, which has led to the deaths of thousands of civilians. But the Trump administration declared the Saudi-Iranian cold war a national emergency in late May 2019, allowing it to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia without congressional approval.


The State Department’s internal watchdog finally released its report about the emergency declaration on Tuesday.

The report found that the “emergency certification was executed in accordance with” the law around arms sales, but that the State Department “did not fully assess risks and implement mitigation measures to reduce civilian casualties and legal concerns” around the arms deal.

Both sides disagreed on what the report meant for the Trump administration.

The State Department claimed that the report found “that the Department acted in complete accordance with the law and found no wrongdoing in the Administration’s exercise of emergency authorities.”

But the investigation did not assuage critics, especially as Congress and the public had been sent different versions of the report.

“This report tells us everything we suspected: the emergency was a sham,” Rep. Engel (D–N.Y.) said in a Wednesday night statement. “It was cooked up to get around congressional review of a bad policy choice.”

Investigators found that the Trump administration had first proposed using an emergency declaration in April 2019, and that only four out of 22 weapons packages have been delivered to Saudi Arabia more than a year after the emergency was declared.

“What sort of emergency makes itself known a few months in advance and can be resolved with weapons delivered years later?” Engel asked.

The State Department redacted these facts from the public report, citing laws that protect trade secrets and “premature” policy discussions from disclosure. The unredacted version for members of Congress was quickly leaked to Politico Magazine.

Engel accused Secretary of State Mike Pompeo of working “to bury the truth.”

Pompeo has been accused of pushing out State Department Inspector-General Steve Linick, who first began the investigation of the Saudi arms deal and was fired in 

Linick testified to Congress that Brian Bulatao, a senior State Department official and personal friend of Pompeo, had attempted to “bully” him over the investigation alongside chief State Department lawyer Marik String.

Engel and several other Democrats issued subpoenas for Bulatao, String and other senior officials on August 3.

Acting Inspector-General Stephen Akard, who was appointed to replace Linick, resigned from the State Department four days later

Pompeo denied that anything was out of the ordinary at an August 5 press conference.

“He left to go back home,” he told reporters. “This happens. I don’t have anything more to add to that.”

Matthew Petti is a national security reporter at the National Interest. Follow him on Twitter: @matthew_petti.

Image: Reuters.