- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s hearing room on Wednesday got heated as members pressed a top State Department official on the justification for the Trump administration’s declaration of “emergencies” to push through multibillion dollar weapons sales to Persian Gulf countries.

Critical lawmakers say the practice amounted to abuse of arms exports laws to complete deals that Congress would never approve.

“Since you began your tenure, the [State] Department has shown only disdain for Congress and the laws that govern our arms export programs,” New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, the panel’s ranking Democrat, told R. Clarke Cooper, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs.

Tensions between Congress and the administration have been simmering since May 24th when the White House chose to skip a congressional review process for arms deals with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other countries by invoking a national security waiver in the Arms Export Control Act.

The waiver ignited bipartisan anger among lawmakers, who argued such deals require congressional approval.

Mr. Menendez pressed Mr. Cooper on whether he personally presented Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with the option to declare an emergency under the act.

Mr. Cooper side-stepped addressing his direct involvement in the decision, saying only that Mr. Pompeo was presented with “a number of tools and consideration including increase of force posture, this emergency declaration, and application of sanctions.”

He said it was ultimately decided by the department that Iranian threats “did equate an emergency status.”

Mr. Menendez said Mr. Pompeo’s “message to us is clear: ‘Congress can review arms sales. Just don’t take too long, or ask tough questions. Otherwise I’ll just ignore the law and cut you out of the process entirely.’”

Mr. Pompeo has repeatedly defended the sales, citing tensions and threats from Iran to America and its regional allies, several of whom — including Saudi Arabia — view Iran as an arch rival.

Mr. Cooper said some of the deals were set in motion over a year ago and defended the emergency declaration because it “was providing assurance for our partners.”

A group of Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee has called for an investigation into the Trump administration’s move, but it remains unclear whether a review has begun.

Some Republicans, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, also expressed unhappiness with the administration’s methods.

“The process that the State Department followed in this issue, not to put too fine a point on it, was crap,” Mr. Cruz said, vowing to vote against the administration if the department tried to use the emergency waiver without a “clear and extant emergency” that Congress consents to.

“Follow the damn law, and respect it,” he said.

According to the State Department’s website, foreign military sales are approved after both a government review and a congressional notification “when required.” A bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House and Senate have repeatedly moved to block the $8.1 billion in weapons deals, including the sale of precision-guided munitions, for Saudi Arabia, citing the kingdom’s rights record, its involvement in the war in Yemen and other factors.

Last month the Senate successfully voted to block the sales. But the legislation did not receive enough support to avoid a likely presidential veto.

Committee Chairman James E. Risch, Idaho Republican, said Mr. Cooper earned points for his frankness, even if lawmakers “didn’t get the answers that they want and it was very frustrating to those people.”

Mr. Risch said in an interview that, despite the frustration of his panel, he would vote to sustain a veto if President Trump opposes the bill blocking the sales.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide