What another fired watchdog reveals about Trump's shady Saudi deals

What another fired watchdog reveals about Trump's shady Saudi deals
Comment: The sacking of State Department watchdog Steve Linick is the latest example of the Trump administration abusing its power to privilege relations with Saudi Arabia, writes Josh Ruebner.
5 min read
23 May, 2020
The brewing storm tracks back to Trump’s first foreign trip to Saudi Arabia [Getty]
The Trump administration has fired four inspectors general from different Executive Branch agencies over the past six weeks in an attempt to govern in an unaccountable manner and to subvert the will of Congress. Yet another constitutional crisis now engulfs the mercurial, impeached president, and further undermines the tottering foundations and principles of US democratic practices.

In the case of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's recommendation to Trump that he fire State Department Inspector General Steve Linick last Friday, the move has important foreign policy considerations. 

The ousted IG was reportedly nearing completion of a report on Pompeo's decision earlier this year to declare an emergency to allow the administration to circumvent growing bipartisan outrage at US arms sales to Saudi Arabia and fast-track weapons deliveries.

The brewing storm traces back to Trump's first foreign trip as president, made to the dictatorial Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in May 2017. The destination of this first trip abroad epitomized his coziness with authoritarian regimes and his utter disregard for human rights. 

The centerpiece of Trump's visit was a purported $110 billion deal for arms, which Trump claimed would create 500,000 high-paying US manufacturing jobs in the weapons industry, inextricably linking the weapons package to his campaign pledge to revive US industry, and making these weapons sales more dependent on domestic political calculations than on foreign policy objectives.

However, like many of Trump's maneuverings, this weapons deal was primarily smoke and mirrors. More than three-quarters of the amount consisted of US pitches to Saudi Arabia of weapons it would be willing to sell under future agreements; roughly 10 percent of the package actually consummated deals already in the works.

Analysts estimated that the arrangement would merely sustain between 20,000 and 40,000 existing jobs, a far cry from Trump's wildly inflated figures.

Trump's carnival barking, however, did not detract from the horrific impact that actual US weapons deliveries to Saudi Arabia has had on civilians in the Saudi-led war in Yemen

Rising bipartisan indignation over US culpability in Saudi Arabia's atrocities against Yemenis, combined with revulsion over its brutal killing of US resident and Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018, led to Congress invoking the War Powers Resolution in April 2019 to direct Trump to end US participation in the war.

The passage of this resolution was a watershed moment. It was the first time Congress had ever revoked a president's ability to wage war and one of the few times Republicans have crossed the aisle to join Democrats to serve as a check against Trump. 

Unfortunately, however, Trump vetoed the resolution and Congress could not muster the votes to overturn it. The Trump administration then proceeded to open up the arms spigot to Saudi Arabia without the pesky involvement of a critical Congress.

In May 2019, Pompeo availed himself of a loophole in the Arms Export Control Act to bypass congressional oversight of arms sales by declaring an emergency in order to fast-track the immediate delivery of 22 weapons deals to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan without affording Congress its normal ability to object. 

Pompeo's flimsy emergency declaration rested on a vague and nebulous claim that these weapons would "help these nations to deter and defend themselves from the Islamic Republic of Iran."

Steve Linick was reportedly completing a report
on US arms sales to Saudi Arabia [Getty]

When the State Department next notified Congress of an impending sale of more than $50 million in guided bombs to Saudi Arabia in June 2019 through the normal weapons sales procedure, Congress struck back by passing a rare joint resolution in July objecting to the deal. Like the War Powers Resolution, Trump vetoed this move as well, and Congress again failed to override the veto.

Meanwhile, just days after the Trump administration notified Congress of the above-mentioned Raytheon Paveway IV weapons deal, news broke that Charles Faulkner, a former lobbyist for a firm which represented Raytheon and Saudi Arabia, was ousted from his position as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs over his role in concocting Pompeo's faux emergency to speed up weapons deliveries. 

This shady episode prompted Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) to send Linick a letter requesting an investigation into Faulkner's activities. "Through Mr. Faulkner's apparent involvement in government actions aimed at ensuring continued lucrative arms sales to Raytheon, it appears that he violated his ethics pledge by using his official government position to advance policies that would directly and substantially benefit the financial interests of one of his former employer's major clients," they wrote. "This is a disturbing example of a conflict of interest and blatant government corruption."

Trump's firing of Linick is yet another apparent example of his dangerous attempts to eviscerate constitutional checks and balances, to circumvent congressional oversight, and to rule autocratically and unaccountably

The Warren-Lieu letter brings the story full circle as Linick reportedly was on the verge of completing this investigation when he was unceremoniously fired by Trump. Undoubtedly if Linick's investigation exculpated the Trump administration, then he would still be inspector general. More likely, his report indeed found the "blatant government corruption" that Warren and Lieu feared.

Trump's firing of Linick is yet another apparent example of his dangerous attempts to eviscerate constitutional checks and balances, to circumvent congressional oversight, and to rule autocratically and unaccountably.

Josh Ruebner is Senior Principal at Progress Up Consulting and is the author of Israel: Democracy or Apartheid State? and Shattered Hopes: Obama's Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace.

Follow him on Twitter: @joshruebner

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.