Fired State Department inspector general Steve Linick was not only investigating Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s alleged use of a political aide to run personal errands, but also an arms deal with Saudi Arabia that Pompeo had fast-tracked against the wishes of Congress, according to a new report from NBC News.
On Friday night, President Trump fired Linick on the recommendation of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in what congressional Democrats are calling an act of political retaliation. In a letter notifying Speaker Nancy Pelosi of the move, Trump’s only explanation for firing Linick was that he no longer had confidence in the Obama-appointed inspector general. Trump named an ally of Vice-President Mike Pence, Ambassador Stephen J. Akard, to replace him and become the new watchdog for misconduct, fraud, and waste at the State Department.
Linick is the latest casualty in Trump’s ongoing post-impeachment purge of inspector generals, but according to Democratic lawmakers, his firing was also meant to shield Pompeo from accountability. On Saturday, Representative Eliot Engel, who chairs the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Senator Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, launched an investigation into the firing.
“It is our understanding that [Pompeo recommended firing Linick] because the inspector general had opened an investigation into wrongdoing by Secretary Pompeo himself,” the pair of Democratic lawmakers announced. “Such an action, transparently designed to protect Secretary Pompeo from personal accountability, would undermine the foundation of our democratic institutions and may be an illegal act of retaliation.”
One investigation was into whether or not Pompeo and his wife, Susan, had improperly made a political appointee at the State Department run personal errands for them including, according to CNN, “walking [Pompeo’s] dog, picking up dry cleaning and making a dinner reservation.” A second investigation, at the request of Engel, was into the Trump administration’s use of an emergency declaration to facilitate a large arms sale to Saudi Arabia in May 2019, which faced bipartisan opposition amid the fallout from the regime’s assassination of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Pompeo is claiming he didn’t even know Linick was investigating him. In an interview with the Washington Post published Monday, Pompeo said he asked Trump to fire Linick because he wasn’t doing his job correctly. “I went to the president and made clear to him that Inspector General Linick wasn’t performing a function in a way that we had tried to get him to, that was additive for the State Department, very consistent with what the statute says he’s supposed to be doing,” Pompeo said, before explaining that he wouldn’t have known about any investigation Linick was conducting.
“I usually see these investigations in final draft form 24 hours, 48 hours before the IG is prepared to release them,” Pompeo added. “So it’s simply not possible for this to be an act of retaliation. End of story.”
Regarding the purpose of the investigations and what, specifically, Linick had done wrong, Pompeo was not very forthcoming:
Pompeo declined to describe what he considers Linick’s failings, or whether his dismissal had anything to do with the prior reports outlining acts of political retribution.
Pompeo also declined to say whether he had ever asked government employees to run personal errands for him or his wife, who plays a role in the State Department familiarizing herself with the needs of employees and their families, particularly those working overseas.
President Trump, meanwhile, said on Monday that he didn’t know anything about Linick and was happy to fire him once he found out he was an Obama appointee:
Prior to the alleged Pompeo investigation, Linick had already uncovered other misconduct by Trump-appointed State Department officials, including the allegation that a top Pompeo aide, Brian Hook, targeted a career civil servant, Sahar Nowrouzzadeh, over her Iranian heritage and perceived political views, as well as the harassment of career officials at the Bureau of International Organization Affairs over perceived disloyalty. Linick also provided (ultimately inconsequential) documents to House investigators during their impeachment inquiry into Trump’s Ukraine misconduct.
Pompeo, meanwhile, has already repeatedly faced scrutiny for possible misuse of State Department personnel and resources, such as having his wife accompany him on trips abroad (he calls her a “force multiplier”); he and his wife allegedly directing diplomatic security personnel to run personal errands for them; and Pompeo’s State Department–funded travel to and from his home state of Kansas — where many GOP leaders have been trying to convince the hyperpartisan former CIA director to run for a U.S. Senate seat. According to Politico, Susan Pompeo has no official role at the State Department, which has not responded to records’ requests regarding whether or not the Pompeos have reimbursed the agency for personal costs.
Engel and Menendez have asked the Trump administration to preserve and hand over, by May 22, all information related to Linick’s firing as well as “all IG investigations involving the Office of the Secretary that were open, pending, or incomplete at the time of Mr. Linick’s firing.” Moderate Republican senators Mitt Romney and Susan Collins have also expressed concerns over Linick’s ouster, and Senator Chuck Grassley said that “a general lack of confidence” is not a sufficient rationale for the firing.
This post has been updated throughout to reflect newly reported information.