Engel Announces Hearing with Key Witnesses in Probe into Firing of State Department Inspector General

Under Secretary for Management, Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs, Acting Legal Adviser to Testify

September 10, 2020

Bronx, NY—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today announced that three key witnesses in the Committee’s investigation into the firing of former State Department Inspector General Steve Linick will testify at an open hearing next week. Under Secretary of State for Management Brian Bulatao, Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs R. Clarke Cooper, and acting Legal Adviser Marik String will appear before the Committee next Wednesday, September 16.

“I’m glad that these witnesses have agreed to voluntarily appear before the Committee to provide more information on Mr. Linick’s firing. Mr. Bulatao personally told Mr. Linick he was fired after apparently pressuring him to drop his probe into last year’s emergency arms sale declaration. Mr. String likewise urged the OIG to stop its work, even though he helped devise the scheme to use the emergency provision to circumvent Congress and push through those arms sales. Mr. Cooper provided apparently false testimony to this Committee, and later demanded that key facts of the Inspector General’s report on arms sales be redacted, hiding them from the public. All this, in spite of the fact that both Mr. Cooper and Mr. String were interviewed as fact witnesses in the IG’s investigation and should have recused themselves from anything else to do with that report. We will have much to discuss next Wednesday,” said Chairman Engel.

Mr. Bulatao has emerged as a central figure in the removal of Mr. Linick—including calling Mr. Linick on a Friday night to deliver the news of his firing—and in the two investigations Mr. Linick’s office was conducting that involved Secretary Pompeo’s conduct. Mr. Linick testified that Mr. Bulatao had tried to bully him into not investigating the 2019 emergency declaration used to push through more than $8 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other countries. Mr. Linick also said that Mr. Bulatao, a close friend of Secretary Pompeo, was aware of the investigation into misuse of State Department resources by Secretary and Mrs. Pompeo.  

Mr. Cooper testified before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on June 12, 2019. When asked by Representative Andy Levin why Secretary Pompeo made no mention of any “emergency” when he briefed Congress on May 20 and 21, Mr. Cooper testified that an emergency arose in the precise window between May 21 and May 24, when the emergency declaration was transmitted to Congress. The version of the OIG report released to the public included redactions, apparently requested by Mr. Cooper, that obscured the more detailed timeline of the decision to use an emergency declaration to advance the arms sales. The complete, unredacted version of the report included three additional dates: April 3, 2019, when the use of the emergency authority was first proposed; April 23, 2019, when drafts of the emergency certification were circulated at the Department; and May 4, 2019, when Mr. Pompeo personally decided that the “emergency” be certified by May 24. This raises serious questions about whether Mr. Cooper’s answer to Rep. Levin was truthful.

In an interview with Congressional investigators, former State Department official Charles Faulkner testified that it was Mr. String, then an official in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, who first identified for him an “authority” in the law “that allow[ed] for an emergency declaration of arms transfers.” According to Mr. Faulkner, this happened in April of 2019, nearly two months earlier than Mr. Cooper testified that the “emergency” arose.  Mr. String pointed Mr. Faulkner to “rising tensions” in a “decades-long” conflict among Gulf powers as a basis for such an emergency transfer.  But when Mr. Faulkner was asked if he was aware of any specific increase in tensions in April of 2019 which would have been crucial to supporting a claim of an “emergency,” Mr. Faulkner could not identify any and testified that he never asked anyone else to so, either.  

On the day of the emergency declaration, May 24, 2019, Mr. String was promoted to acting State Department Legal Adviser, a position he still holds. Legal experts have raised concerns that his efforts to get the IG to drop an investigation in which he himself was a fact witness may have violated legal ethics rules regarding conflicts of interest.

More information on next week’s hearing can be found here.

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