House Committee Says State Dept. Tried to Hide Civilian Casualties in Arms Sales Report

The House foreign affairs committee released documents that its chairman said shows the State Department tried to "hide the truth" from Congress on the 2019 emergency declaration to seal more than $8 billion in arms sales to Gulf countries.

In a release, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), chairman of the House panel, criticized Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs R. Clarke Cooper, who is due to appear before the committee on Wednesday.

Cooper recommended in a July 10 memo to the department's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) that it "consider removing" from its inspection report an annex on civilian casualties to "resolve significant factual errors" which "may take time."

Doing so would "allow that Report to be finalized, briefed to Congress, and released to the public," Cooper wrote to Sandra Lewis, assistant inspector general for inspections at the OIG.

"The records we received today show just how hard the State Department wanted to hide the truth about last year's phony emergency declaration," Engel said in a statement.

"The picture is starting to come into focus: a top priority at Mike Pompeo's State Department was to go around Congress to sell weapons, and his senior aides worked hard after the fact to obscure their indifference to civilian casualties."

The documents also show that Cooper and State's Deputy Legal Adviser Joshua Dorosin requested the OIG redact parts of the report on the grounds of "potential executive privilege concerns," which the foreign affairs committee called "vague."

The OIG responded to the request to say that "citing 'potential Executive Privilege concerns' does not properly invoke a claim of privilege that would justify the withholding of information that is otherwise appropriately released to the Congress and/or the public".

Moreover, the OIG said some of the State Department's "overly broad" requests for redaction appeared not to conform to U.S. Government practices for making redactions, including the department's own Freedom of Information Act regulations.

It also said the redaction requests were applied inconcsistently across the report.

In May 2019, Pompeo issued an emergency declaration, bypassing congressional review requirements on arms sales, to sell military equipment to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

Congress had blocked the $8 billion in sales to the three Gulf states, citing concerns about the actions of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen since 2015, including the high rates of civilian casualties caused by airstrikes using U.S.-supplied supplied weapons.

According to a United Nations estimate, the conflict had caused 233,000 deaths by the end of 2019 and left more than 20 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.

Clarke Cooper, the State Deparmtnet's acting legal adviser of the Marik String, and Brian Bulatao, undersecretary of state for management, are due to testify Wednesday in relation to the firing of former Inspector General Steve Linick.

President Donald Trump fired Linick in May at the recommendation of Pompeo.

Critics accused the secretary of state of ousting Linick to quash investigations into allegations that he used official staff for personal favors and the handling of an arms deal with Saudi Arabia. Pompeo denied that Linick's firing was retaliation for the probes.

"Inspector General Steve Linick must have been quite a thorn in Mr. Pompeo's side before Mr. Pompeo had him fired," Engel said. "Thankfully, the OIG staff carried the work forward with integrity. We look forward to hearing from Mr. Cooper tomorrow."

The State Department has been contacted for comment.

Rep Eliot Engel House Committee Foreign Affairs
Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY) speaks about a trip to Israel and Auschwitz-Birkenau as part of a bipartisan delegation from the House of Representatives on January 28 in Washington, DC. Engel released documents yesterday he said showed the State Department’s attempt to hide facts in an OIG report into the 2019 sale of arms to three Gulf states. Samuel Corum/Getty Images