US official says Trump firing watchdog may be tied to Saudi arms deal


The chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the United States House of Representatives said on Monday that the State Department inspector general might have been fired because he was investigating President Donald Trump's declaration of an emergency to clear the way for military sales to Saudi Arabia last year.

The White House and State Department did not immediately respond to the statement by the chairman, Democratic Representative Eliot Engel.

Trump announced the planned removal of Inspector General Steve Linick in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi late on Friday night, making him the latest government inspector general that the Republican president has removed over the last several weeks.

Engel and Senator Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Republican-controlled Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced on Saturday that they were launching an investigation of Linick's firing.

"I have learned that there may be another reason for Mr Linick's firing. His office was investigating – at my request – Trump's phony declaration of an emergency so he could send weapons to Saudi Arabia," Engel said in a statement.

"We don't have the full picture yet, but it's troubling that Secretary (Mike) Pompeo wanted Mr Linick pushed out before this work could be completed. The administration should comply with the probe I launched with Senator Menendez and turn over all the records requested from the Department by Friday," Engel said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said over the weekend that the inspector general's removal may be unlawful.

"The president has the right to fire any federal employee, but the fact is if it looks like it's in retaliation for something the IG, the inspector general, was investigating, that could be unlawful," Pelosi said on CNN's State of the Union programme.

White House adviser Peter Navarro, meanwhile, downplayed the firing, saying what Trump terms the "deep state" has caused problems and those who are not loyal must go.

"We've had tremendous problems with, some people call it the 'Deep State.' And I think that's apt. So I don't mourn the loss," Navarro, the director of the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, said in an interview on ABC's This Week.

"There's a bureaucracy out there. And there's a lot of people in that bureaucracy who think they got elected president and not Donald J. Trump."

Trump infuriated many members of US Congress last year, including some of his fellow Republicans as well as Democrats, by declaring an emergency in order to sidestep Congressional review of eight billion dollars in military sales, mostly to Saudi Arabia.

The House and Senate both passed resolutions to block the sales, but Trump vetoed them, and there was not enough support in the Republican-led Senate to override his veto.

Congressional aides had also said that Linick was investigating whether Pompeo misused a taxpayer-funded political appointee to perform personal tasks for himself and his wife.

US law allows a president to remove inspector generals, who act as watchdogs to expose waste or improper activities within government agencies.

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