WASHINGTON — The Pentagon referred questions Thursday to the State Department about American arms deals with Saudi Arabia, amid a controversy over an internal watchdog who was fired while reportedly investigating the agreements.
"I'm not going to talk about the interagency process on that and there's obviously a lot of scrutiny and interest in this. I would refer you over to State Department, who handled the announcement on this," Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters Thursday.
"Foreign military sales are an important part of what the department does and how we work with our allies and partners," he added, saying that "with regard to that particular transaction I'm just gonna have to refer you over to the State Department I'm not going to discuss the interagency conversations."
In a statement Thursday night, a State Department spokesperson wrote that "the Department met the requirements of the law and followed relevant practice in invoking this emergency authority, and has moved these arms transfers forward.
State Department Inspector General Steve Linick was looking into what role Secretary of State Mike Pompeo played in the potential fast-tracking of an $8 billion foreign military sale to the kingdom. Linick was also looking into other matters, such as whether Pompeo and his wife, Susan, had a State Department staffer walk their dog, pick up dry cleaning and perform other personal tasks.
Pompeo urged President Donald Trump to Linick last week, and Trump complied. The nation's top diplomat told reporters on Wednesday that he should have recommended Linick's dismissal sooner, but did not elaborate on reasons as to why.
"There are claims that this was for retaliation for some investigation that the inspector general's office here was engaged in. Patently false," Pompeo said.
Saudi Arabia is America's top weapons buyer, and the world's largest arms importer. Between 2015 and 2019, Riyadh imported 73% of its arms from Washington, according to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
In March 2018, Trump praised Saudi Arabia's defense acquisitions as he met with the nation's powerful Crown Prince Mohammed at the White House — and pushed for even more.
"Saudi Arabia is a very wealthy nation, and they're going to give the United States some of that wealth, hopefully, in the form of jobs, in the form of the purchase of the finest military equipment anywhere in the world," Trump said at the time.
While Congress discussed the possibility of placing some restrictions on weapons exports to Saudi Arabia in 2019, deliveries of air defense systems, combat aircraft and guided bombs continued throughout the year.