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Pompeo says ‘full’ vindication, but IG report finds fault with Saudi arms sales

A new report from the State Department’s federal watchdog found that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was within his legal authority to bypass Congress and approve $8.1 billion of arms sales, but it is not the “full” vindication that the top U.S. diplomat says it is.

The report from the State Department’s beleaguered Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has been highly anticipated, as the investigation may be one of the reasons why Pompeo had former inspector general Steve Linick fired in May.

At the request of Democratic lawmakers, the OIG probed Pompeo’s use of an emergency authority in May 2019 to sell weapons, ammunition and training to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who are fighting rebels in neighboring Yemen, even after members of Congress had objected to them and placed holds on their approval.

The State Department took the rare step of briefing journalists Monday the day before the report was released to the public. A senior State Department official said the report found “the department acted in complete accordance of the law and found no wrongdoing in the administration’s exercise of the emergency authorities.”

But that’s not entirely true. The report said Pompeo’s “emergency certification was executed in accordance with the requirements of the” law, but it faulted the department for not meeting its requirement to “fully assess risks and implement mitigation measures to reduce civilian casualties.”

It also made clear that the OIG was not rendering a judgment on whether there was an “emergency” dire enough to legitimize the use of this special authority, which is relatively rare.

“No one ever doubted that the law provides for the authority to expedite the sale of weapons in the case of an emergency. The question was always, ‘Did the administration abuse that authority in order to ram through more than $8 billion in sales to Gulf countries?'” said House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Rep Eliot Engel, D-NY, after the report’s release Tuesday.

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