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State Department watchdog: Saudi arms sales were legal but didn't weigh civilian casualties

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acted legally when he bypassed Congress to approve $8 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia, but failed to "fully assess risks and implement mitigation measures to reduce civilian casualties" that resulted from the deal, according to a report by the State Department inspector general.

Why it matters: The 2019 sale drew bipartisan ire among lawmakers, who worried it could lead to a pattern of the administration using "emergency declarations" to circumvent Congress to approve weapons deals. The report comes two months after former Inspector General Steve Linick testified that he was pressured by a top Pompeo aide to drop the investigation.


  • At the time of his firing, which is being investigated by House Democrats, Linick was conducting five probes into the State Department and Pompeo, including allegations of misuse of staff.
  • Pompeo has denied that he engineered Linick's removal because of the investigations and has called the former watchdog a "bad actor."

Details: The transfer of weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which was made after President Trump declared an emergency over tensions with Iran, "was executed in accordance with the requirements" of the Arms Control Export Act, according the inspector general report.

  • The report also found the State Department "regularly" approved arms deals with Saudi Arabia that didn't meet the threshold to notify Congress. Under the Trump administration, the two countries conducted 4,221 "below-threshold arms transfers" with an estimated value of $11.2 billion.
  • The OIG made one recommendation to the State Department, which is classified. The investigation was conducted from October 22 to December 16, 2019, but the report was not complete when the administration fired Linick in May this year.
  • The inspector general's office conducted 46 interviews with "Department stakeholders" during its investigation. It sought to interview Pompeo, but "the Secretary instead submitted a written statement to OIG in February."

Worth noting: In a briefing call with reporters on Monday, State Department officials portrayed the report as a total exoneration, without mentioning its criticisms, according to Bloomberg.

The big picture: Both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate last year voted in favor of blocking the arms sales to Saudi Arabia, citing the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the brutal Saudi-led war in Yemen, where U.S. weapons have helped create one of the world's humanitarian crises. Trump vetoed the resolutions.

Read the full report.

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