Top Pompeo aides face U.S. House Democrats over Saudi weapons, official's firing

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Top aides to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will testify to members of Congress on Wednesday about the firing of the former State Department inspector general, months after Democratic-led committees launched an investigation into his dismissal.

President Donald Trump abruptly fired Steve Linick from his position as the State watchdog in May, as he investigated the administration's decision to pursue billions of dollars in military sales to Saudi Arabia despite congressional opposition.

His firing was one of a series of Trump's dismissals of officials responsible for preventing fraud and abuse at government agencies. The firings prompted concern among members of Congress, including some of Trump's fellow Republicans, over whether Trump was interfering with legitimate oversight.

Linick was also investigating allegations that Pompeo and his wife Susan had misused government resources by having department staff handle personal matters.

On Wednesday three top Pompeo aides - Brian Bulatao, Under Secretary for Management, Acting Legal Adviser Marik String and Clarke Cooper, Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs - will appear before the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees.

Underscoring tensions between Congress and the administration over Linick's firing amid the investigations, Bulatao and String agreed to testify only after the panels announced subpoenas.

"All the facts that we know suggest that there is an aversion to accountability," a committee aide said.

Congress had requested an investigation into the Trump administration's May 2019 decision to push ahead with $8 billion in military sales to Saudi Arabia and neighboring countries by declaring a "national emergency" over tensions with Iran in order to sidestep congressional objections to the sales.

Lawmakers had been blocking many of the sales for months out of concern the Raytheon smart bombs and other equipment might contribute to the human catastrophe in Yemen, where bombings by a Saudi-led coalition have caused heavy civilian casualties.

A report issued by the State Inspector General's office in August found that State did not fully evaluate the risks to civilians in Yemen when it pushed through the huge precision-guided munitions sale, although it did not violate the law.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; editing by Mary Milliken and David Gregorio)

09/16/2020 13:58

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