Senator warns Trump may use 'obscure loophole' to sell bombs to Saudi Arabia

CNN

Sen. Chris Murphy warned Wednesday that President Donald Trump is considering using an "obscure loophole" in arms control law that would allow his administration to sell a new batch of bombs to Saudi Arabia without congressional approval.

Circumventing Congress in order to sell munitions to the Saudis "would be a complete abuse of power," Murphy told CNN, adding that the administration could put its plan in motion as early as this week.

"Arms control law allows Congress to reject a sale to a foreign country. But Trump would claim the sale constitutes an 'emergency' which means Congress can't take a vote of disapproval. It would go through automatically," the Connecticut Democrat and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said in a tweet.

"To state the obvious, there is no new emergency reason to sell bombs to Saudi Arabia to drop in Yemen. The Saudis been dropping the bombs on civilians, so if there is an emergency, it's a humanitarian emergency caused by the bombs we sell the Saudis," he added.

    Asked about the issue Wednesday, Murphy said he wanted to alert his colleagues that the move was "potentially happening" and hoped his fellow lawmakers would pressure the administration to stop it.

    "I don't know what the precedent is for using this loophole," he said. "I hadn't heard of it until, you know, I got information they were contemplating it."

    Murphy would not disclose who informed him that the Trump administration was considering such action and did not offer details related to the specific type of bombs that may be included in the potential sale.

    The "loophole" mentioned by Murphy appears to be in reference to a specific section of the Arms Export Control Act that allows the President to waive congressional approval requirements if "an emergency exists which requires the proposed sale in the national security interest of the United States."

    State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus would not comment on the issue raised by Murphy nor would she confirm the existence of any such loop hole in the Arms Control Act that would allow the administration to unilaterally move forward with the sale to Saudi Arabia.

    "We do not comment to confirm or deny potential arms sales or transfers until Congress is formally notified," she said.

    The National Security Council did not immediately respond to CNN's request for comment.

    Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations committees, said he had "picked up grumblings" that the administration is "seeking to break through our hold" on arms sales.

    "That would be a dangerous precedent and would unlock a whole host of other actions as a result," he added.

    In interviews with CNN, several Republican senators on the Foreign Relations committee said they were not aware of the issue. Sen. Jim Risch, the top Republican on the panel, declined to comment on the matter, however a source familiar with the his thinking told CNN that the committee chairman would ask the administration for more information.

    Sens. Lindsey Graham and Rand Paul, who have fought on numerous other foreign policy fronts, said they would oppose the administration selling arms to Saudi Arabia without congressional approval.

    "I'm currently blocking just about any arm sales I can get my hands on, particularly with regard to the Middle East," said Paul. "I think we're in an arms race over there and feeding a bunch of people who hate each other arms is not the best way for world peace. We'll do anything we can to try to stop any arm sales to Saudi Arabia."

    Graham has said that Mohammed Bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, is "complicit" in the murder of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi.

      On Wednesday, Graham pointed to "the way the crown prince has behaved" as the reason why he would oppose the administration if it decided to go around Congress.

      "We're not going to have business as usual until that issue is dealt with," he said.