AP News in Brief: 05-19-20

  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks about the coronavirus during news conference at the State Department in Washington on Wednesday, May 6, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Pool Photo via AP)

Democrats: Fired watchdog was looking into Saudi arms sale

WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats say the State Department watchdog fired by President Donald Trump last week was investigating possible impropriety in a massive arms sale to Saudi Arabia last year, adding new questions to the watchdog’s abrupt dismissal.

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Democrats said Monday that ousted Inspector General Steve Linick was probing how the State Department pushed through a $7 billion Saudi arms sale over congressional objections. Democrats previously suggested the dismissal might have been tied to Linick’s investigation of allegations that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo may have improperly ordered staff to run personal errands for him.

Linick’s dismissal late Friday comes amid broader concerns over Trump’s removal of inspectors general at various departments. Trump has said he had lost confidence in those fired but has not given specific reasons, which lawmakers from both parties have criticized.

Pompeo told The Washington Post on Monday that he had recommended to Trump that Linick be removed because he was “undermining” the State Department’s mission. He would not address specifics except to say it was not in retaliation for any investigation.

FBI: Shooter at base coordinated with al-Qaida

The gunman who killed three U.S. sailors at a military base in Florida last year communicated with al-Qaida operatives about planning and tactics in the months leading up to the attack, U.S. officials said Monday, as they lashed out at Apple for failing to help them open the shooter’s phones so they could access key evidence.

Law enforcement officials discovered contacts between Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani and operatives of al-Qaida after FBI technicians succeeded in breaking into two cellphones that had previously been locked and that the shooter, a Saudi Air Force officer, had tried to destroy before he was killed by a sheriff’s deputy.

“We now have a clearer understanding of Alshamrani’s associations and activities in the years, months and days leading up to his attack,” Attorney General William Barr said at a news conference in which he chastised Apple for not helping open the phones.

The new details, including that Alshamrani had been radicalized abroad before he arrived in the U.S., raise fresh questions about the vetting of foreign military members and trainees who spend time at American bases. The announcement also comes amid tension with the U.S. over instability in the oil market during the coronavirus pandemic and as the Trump administration faces criticism that it has not done enough to hold the kingdom, which has been trying to improve its international image, accountable for human rights violations.

Tropical Storm Arthur hits coast with rain

Tropical Storm Arthur moved out to sea Monday after dumping heavy rain on North Carolina as forecasters warned that the first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season could continue to whip dangerous surf and rip currents for another day or more along the U.S. East Coast.

The storm represented another early start for the Atlantic hurricane season. Arthur formed Saturday in waters off Florida, marking the sixth straight year that a named storm has developed before June 1.

By late Monday, storm watches and warnings that had been in effect for parts of the North Carolina coast were canceled.

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As Arthur’s center passed off North Carolina earlier in the day, a pocket along the coast that includes Newport and Havelock recorded more than 4 inches Of rain, according to the National Weather Service.

By wire sources

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