Fired State Department watchdog says Pompeo aide attempted to ‘bully’ him over investigations


A top aide to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attempted to “bully” former State Department Inspector General Steve Linick into halting an investigation into a multibillion-dollar arms sale to Saudi Arabia, according to a summary provided Wednesday by House Democrats investigating the watchdog’s ousting.

Linick said that Under Secretary for Management Brian Bulatao, a long-time friend of Pompeo and a senior official in the agency, tried to pressure him into scrapping an investigation into the State Department’s greenlighting of weapons sales to the Middle East under a presidential executive order. 

President Trump fired Linick last month on the recommendation of Pompeo, providing Congress with a letter of intent and 30 days notice, as required by law, late on a Friday evening.

Linick’s firing was widely condemned by Democrats, who launched an investigation surrounding his ousting, and prompted pushback from a few Republicans, in particular those focused on protecting the autonomy of inspectors general. 

Linick was the fourth inspector general dismissed within a period of two months.  

His testimony on Wednesday took place virtually with members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Democratic members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Chairwoman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), among others. 

According to a summary provided by Democrats, Linick told committee members that Bulatao “pressured him to act in ways that Mr. Linick felt were inappropriate — including Bulatao telling Linick that the investigation into weapons sales to Saudi Arabia was not a matter for the IG to investigate.”

The secretary at the time said the emergency declaration issued by the president to authorize the sale without congressional approval was necessary to deter Iranian aggression. The declaration allowed the administration to sell over $8 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.

Pompeo reportedly pushed State Department officials to justify the declaration in May 2019, suggesting the decision to sell arms came first and the reasoning second, according to a report by CNN.

A Democratic aide had earlier confirmed to The Hill that the investigation into the Saudi arms sales was tied to Linick’s removal.

Linick said he felt bullied by Bulatao on several occasions and that Bulatao wanted to oversee an investigation being undertaken by the office of inspector general into whether unauthorized leaks to the media took place. 

Bulatao was confirmed as under secretary for management in 2019, charged with overseeing the day to day running of the State Department. He carried the title of “Chief Operating Officer” to Pompeo.

Bulatao and Pompeo have a long history together, from classmates at West Point to business partners founding in 1997 the company Thayer Aerospace, a Kansas-based defense manufacturing firm.

Pompeo has confirmed that he recommended Linick be fired, but refuted the idea that his ousting was political retaliation. The secretary said he had provided written answers in at least one investigation earlier this year, but that he did not know the scope or the status of the inquiry. 

The secretary has said that he wanted to fire Linick “a long time ago” and that he recommended his ousting because the inspector general was “leaking information,” instigating investigations against policies Linick did not like and undermining the mission of the State Department.

Tags Carolyn Maloney Donald Trump Inspector General Mike Pompeo Steve Linick watchdog

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