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Engel Discusses IG Report On U.S. Selling $8 Billion Worth Of Arms In Middle East

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

To a tangled tale now of arms sales to the Middle East, an inspector general report, the conduct of the secretary of state and what - if anything - Congress should do about it. OK, here's the headline. The State Department says its inspector general has cleared Secretary of State Mike Pompeo of wrongdoing when he greenlit arms sales to Saudi Arabia over objections from Congress. Democrats on Capitol Hill say, not so fast, among them Eliot Engel. He's chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He is calling the announcement from the State Department, quote, "pre-spin" of the IG's findings and an attempt to distract and mislead. Well, Congressman Engel is here now to elaborate.

Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

ELIOT ENGEL: Thank you. Great to be here. I'm a big fan.

KELLY: Glad to have you with us. Thank you. I will quickly fill in some background because this is, as I called it, a tangled tale.

ENGEL: Yeah.

KELLY: Congress had concerns about $8 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and those concerns included how the arms might be used in the war in Yemen, also...

ENGEL: Yeah.

KELLY: ...Concerned about the killing of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

ENGEL: Yeah.

KELLY: Secretary Pompeo avoided oversight by you and other members of Congress by saying this was an emergency, which brings us to this news. The State Department says Secretary Pompeo was within his rights to do that. So why, in your view, is this not case closed?

ENGEL: Well, the law does provide - and you're right - for an emergency declaration. But Pompeo's use of that provision last year was phony, and the IG's report shows just how phony it was. The report shows that nearly two months...

KELLY: It shows he followed the law.

ENGEL: Well, but the report shows that nearly two months went by from when someone at the State Department came up with the idea of an emergency declaration until the secretary actually declared an emergency - doesn't sound like much of an emergency to me. Secretary also decided the date he wanted to declare the emergency three weeks in advance. So I asked a simple question. What kind of emergency gives you three weeks' notice? And the OIG report points out that most of the weapons still to this day have not been delivered. So if there was an emergency, where was the rush?

So it's just, you know, one thing after another after another. And the worst part is the departments insisted that these details be redacted in the public version of the report. They buried the most important detail. So this has been a thing of, you know, clouds and slinking around and finding reasons to be able to do something when it's - at least it sounds rotten, smells rotten to me.

KELLY: To follow on something you said, there are two versions of this inspector general report - the redacted version that we all can read and a classified version. Does that raise red flags for you? The classified version, we're told, contains the recommendations. Does it raise red flags in terms of whether the public will get the full picture?

ENGEL: Oh, it sure does. It raises red flags as to whether I'll get the picture or my colleagues will get the picture. This has been an attempt...

KELLY: Well, you can read the classified version.

ENGEL: Right. But they'll do everything to try to block it or to drag it out or to make it impossible. They have not been cooperative from day one in terms of, bottom line, if Congress is entitled to find out the truth. And we know this wasn't an emergency because, you know, after they supposedly got what they wanted, they haven't moved on it. So if they haven't moved on it, then it's really not an emergency. You know, we have the Inspector General Linick doing what we asked him to do. And then because he did what we asked him to do, the president's people fired him.

KELLY: You mentioned Linick. This is the previous Inspector General Steve Linick, who was ousted in May. Your committee's also been investigating what happened there. Have you found anything out? What's the status?

ENGEL: No, we're still investigating. But we believe there'll be some new news that will come out. It smells like everything else.

KELLY: Meaning what?

ENGEL: Meaning that all the excuses that they give us, all the reasons they give us for doing what they have to do are phony and are made up. It's just that they don't - they want to have freedom to operate, not have the public know anything, certainly not have Congress know anything. And this is the way they've operated from day one. And it's not really, you know - on the Foreign Affairs Committee, this is our jurisdiction. We're supposed to be investigating these things, and they look at us as somehow intruding on their private purview.

KELLY: Congressman, forgive me for cutting you off. We're going to have to leave it there - very much appreciate your time. That's Congressman Eliot Engel of New York, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the House. Thank you so much, sir.

ENGEL: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF LEAVV'S "LIGHTHOUSE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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