Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has learned a little something from Attorney General Bill Barr: Whatever you do, pre-spin the findings of watchdog reports before they are actually released.
That’s what Pompeo’s spokespeople did Monday before release of the inspector general’s report on his end-run around Congress to make an $8.1 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. It also just happens to be the close of an investigation that had originally been opened by inspector general Steve Linick, before Pompeo had him canned and Linick’s replacement subsequently resigned after recusing himself from the arms probe.
So the final report, which clears Pompeo of breaking the law, was issued by acting State Department inspector general Diana Shaw—who, if she plays her cards right, may or may not survive Pompeo’s reign at the agency.
At issue was whether the national security “emergency” Pompeo declared last year so he could bypass Congress’ express rejection of the deal was legal or not. Pompeo’s aides were happy to report to numerous outlets Monday that Pompeo had been cleared of wrongdoing and had “acted in complete accordance with the law.” They declined, however, to release the findings and left out a few minor details.
First, the IG never examined whether the situation in Yemen actually constituted an “emergency,” since the governing law leaves that determination entirely to the discretion of the secretary.
“Accordingly, OIG did not evaluate whether the Iranian malign threats cited in the Secretary’s May 2019 certification … constituted an emergency, nor did OIG make any assessment of the policy decisions underlying the arms transfers and the associated emergency,” the watchdog report stated. Oh.
Also, the report definitely leaves the impression that the IG believes Pompeo’s team tried to subvert the law in some instances and also demanded that more information remain classified than was necessary.
The report faults Pompeo for failing to both fully assess the risks of civilian casualties and implement mitigation measures to reduce those casualties. In fact, Congress had specifically placed holds on at least $3.8 billion in weapons due to concern about the “high rates of civilian casualties” and “deteriorating humanitarian situation” caused by airstrikes executed by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. But Pompeo’s failure to consider the mass deaths caused by the arms sales was not elaborated on in the report because the IG’s explanation and associated recommendation were included in the classified annex to the report. How convenient.
The IG then gave a lengthy recounting of her office’s efforts to work with State Department officials to make as much information publicly available as possible—the implication being that the Department insisted on hiding a lot of detail.
“Consistent with OIG’s commitment to transparency and accountability, OIG worked with the Department in an attempt to maximize the information to be released,” Shaw writes in her opening statement. Specifically, she says, she sought to “understand the nature of the potential claims of executive privilege” in order to minimize the requested redactions.
Ultimately, Shaw relays, Pompeo pulled rank, with the Department stating its position that the Secretary “has the authority to direct the OIG not to disclose privileged information, and the Department may do so without any final assertion of executive privilege.”
Despite her efforts, Shaw concludes the Department “withheld significant information in the classified annex necessary to understand OIG’s finding and recommendation.” Oh. So Pompeo excluded a bunch of information under the auspices of “executive privilege” that make it impossible to make sense of the IG’s findings. Cool.
And then there’s the part about the Department’s stealth efforts, since the earliest days of the administration, to push through more than $11 billion in arms to the Saudis and the UAE in increments that wouldn’t require the Department to disclose the sales to Congress.
“The records show the Department approved a total of 4,221 below-threshold arms transfers involving Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, with an estimated total value of $11.2 billion since January 2017,” the IG concluded. Oh. So Pompeo and his predecessor Rex Tillerson kept more than 4,000 arms sales secret by making sure they were below the disclosure threshold. Yeah, that doesn’t sound at all like a shady white-collar crime that people have gone to prison for in the private sector. But hey, this is totally different because it’s official U.S. governmental business.
Just like Linick’s dismissal, this arms deal and Pompeo’s handling of it totally stinks. Though Pompeo has supposedly been cleared of illegality, the integrity of his “emergency” order was never examined, the numerous transactions he approved were purposely hidden from Congress, and the IG’s major findings about mass casualties inflicted on the Yemeni people by Pompeo’s sales are buried in the classified portion of the report at Pompeo’s unexplained insistence.
That sounds about par for the course for a guy who, for months on end, hid his knowledge of Donald Trump’s effort to strong-arm Ukraine into investigating Joe Biden in order to boost Trump’s reelection bid.