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WASHINGTON - Top State Department aides Wednesday defended President Donald Trump’s firing of State Department Inspector General (IG) Steve Linick earlier this year, telling lawmakers the decision was within the White House’s executive authority.

“The IG’s removal was not about retaliation on any specific report or investigation,” Brian Bulatao, State Department undersecretary of management, told lawmakers.

But congressional Democrats allege Linick’s firing was connected to two investigations his office was conducting into Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s conduct.

The first investigation involved Pompeo’s emergency declaration that allowed the Trump administration to circumvent the U.S. Congress to approve $8 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Congressional Democrats expressed concern the arms would be used against civilians in the war in Yemen.

“Many of us here in Congress saw the situation on the ground in Yemen and said, ‘Enough.’ We thought that before we shipped instruments of death overseas, adequate precautions should be in place to ensure those instruments would not be used to blow up school buses or funeral processions. We did not want the United States to be party to the slaughter of innocents,” House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel said during a hearing on the matter.

The IG’s report found Pompeo's emergency declaration did “not fully assess risks and implement mitigation measures to reduce civilian casualties and legal concerns associated with the transfer of PGMs (precision guided munitions) included in the Secretary’s May 2019 emergency certification.”

Last week, Engel released internal documents from July that showed State Department officials asked the IG’s office to remove passages of the report expressing concerns about civilian casualties.

Pompeo was also facing ethics concerns related to dinner parties he and his wife held at his home that he has said were related to his work at the State Department. Congressional Democrats noted that State Department officials were not present at the gatherings, saying the guest list appears related to the Secretary of State’s domestic political ambitions.

FILE - State Department Inspector General Steve Linick departs after briefing House and Senate Intelligence committees at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Oct. 2, 2019.

Republicans defended Trump’s decision to fire Linick as an example of his executive power.

“The news of Inspector General Linick’s firing did come as a surprise,” Congressman Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Wednesday. “Inspectors general are an essential tool in helping Congress execute its constitutional oversight of the executive branch, and any time one is terminated, it naturally will raise some questions. However, inspectors general, like other officers in the executive branch, do serve at the pleasure of the president.”

State Department aides say Linick was fired for numerous examples of poor job performance, including leaking information to the press, sending sensitive information to his personal email address and for failing to complete a timely audit of State Department financial procedures.

“His failures were substantial and numerous, and fell into three broad categories — failure to execute on the core mission of the IG, failure to take care of the IG team and failure to lead with integrity,” Bulatao told lawmakers.

Engel said he presumed the IG’s office was still investigating the concerns about Pompeo. Linick was one of five inspectors general fired earlier this spring.


News Source: Voice of America

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EU leaders seek end to embarrassing Belarus sanctions clash

BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union leaders are gathering Thursday to try to end an embarrassing standoff that is preventing them from imposing sanctions on senior officials in Belarus accused of falsifying election results and leading the crackdown on peaceful protesters.

The roadblock borders on the absurd. All 27 EU member countries reject the result of the Aug. 9 vote that allowed President Alexander Lukashenko to stay in office. They want a new election and agree that sanctions should be slapped on dozens of officials, perhaps even the man once dubbed Europe’s last dictator himself.

But Cyprus, one of the EU’s smallest member countries, is vetoing the move. It is demanding that its partners in the world’s biggest trading bloc also take action against Turkey for its energy exploration work in disputed waters off the island nation’s coast.

After European foreign ministers failed to break the deadlock last month, the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, warned that the bloc’s ability to forge a common foreign policy among 27 countries on issues of concern in wider Europe or around the Mediterranean is on the line.

“If we are not able to do that, then I understand perfectly that our credibility is at stake,” he said.

Before the summit, diplomats said an accommodation might be found. Over dinner, the leaders will have wide-ranging talks about the EU’s troubled ties with Turkey over its drilling in the Mediterranean, its roles in the conflicts in Libya and Syria, and as a source of migrants trying to reach Europe.

Cyprus could be appeased if its partners underline their support in the final summit communique, or in a special statement from European Council President Charles Michel, who is chairing the two-day meeting. The leaders could then give a green light to sanctions against dozens of Belarus officials.

National envoys could then quickly enact the sanctions in coming days, the EU diplomats said.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said that “Turkey’s destabilizing actions in the eastern Mediterranean are unacceptable and exacerbate an already tense situation.”

“Should the dialogue path not yield results, then the EU must be ready to consider other courses of action, such as expanded listings within the framework of the existing sanctions regime,” Lofven was quoted as saying by Swedish news agency TT before the summit, which Lofven won’t attend because of his mother’s funeral.

The dispute shines the spotlight on troubling old questions about the EU’s ability to act quickly and with one voice. The leaders will also discuss ties with China, but here too they are divided in how to approach a country that is a major trading partner yet poses serious economic and political challenges.

It’s also possible that divisions will be exposed in other ways, given a worrying rise of authoritarianism in some member countries. A recent EU report on the state of the rule of law — the independence of the judiciary, corruption and media freedoms — has ruffled feathers and could be raised during the summit.

Hungary and Poland are notably angry about the report and an attempt to link countries’ access to certain relatively generous kinds of EU funds to the way they run their democracies.

The leaders will also hold brief talks on Brexit, scheduled for Friday, after the EU’s executive commission launched legal action against Britain for reneging on its commitments in the divorce agreement.


Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen contributed to this report.

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