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State Department asking for investigation of ousted watchdog

State Department asking for investigation of ousted watchdog
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The State Department is asking for a government watchdog panel to investigate Steve Linick, the department's ousted inspector general.

Brian Bulatao, the department's under secretary for Management and a long-time ally of Secretary Mike PompeoMike PompeoState Dept. to review Trump admin's decision to label Houthis a terrorist organization VOA reinstates White House reporter reassigned after questioning Pompeo Jilani: China 'sending clear message' to Biden officials with sanctions that opposition could lead to 'future pay cut' MORE, sent a letter this week requesting an investigation by the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE), which is tasked with probing allegations of wrongdoing by government watchdogs.

"Specifically, the department has become aware that Mr. Linick may have hand-selected a potentially-conflicted investigator to look into possible misconduct by his own office and then withheld the resulting report ... from State Department leadership, despite repeated requests for a copy of the report," Bulatao wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Hill.

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The State Department didn't immediately respond to a request for comment about the letter and if Pompeo personally approved the decision to request an investigation of Linick.

Republicans, and State Department officials, have homed in on an investigation by the Pentagon's Office of Inspector General into whether Linick or anyone from his office shared information with the media about an inquiry into the State Department that Linick’s office was working on. CNN reported last month that Linick was cleared of wrongdoing.

But Bulatao said in his letter to Michael Horowitz, who chairs the CIGIE, that the decision to ask the Defense Department watchdog to run the investigation violated an agreement that he says was previously struck with State Department leadership and was made without informing them.

"Only after the DOD IG provided its initial findings directly to Mr. Linick in late 2019 and early 2020 did Department leadership become aware that Mr. Linick had hand-selected his own investigator for the matter. ... Mr. Linick then refused multiple requests by department leadership for a copy of the resulting report," he added.

Bulatao said that findings from the Pentagon inspector general "further substantiate the department's misgivings with Mr. Linick's performance as Inspector General and merit a review by an independent investigatory body."

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Bulatao is requesting the CIGIE investigate Linick's decision to ask the then-acting Defense Department watchdog – instead of CIGIE – to investigate the potential media leaks; if Glenn Fine, who was then the acting-DOD inspector general, had a "conflict of interest"; and if the DOD watchdog probe's scope was limited.

He's also requesting the investigation look into if Linick used email practices that contradicted State Department policy as well as Linick's decision – reported by CNN – to open an inquiry into whether the leaks to the media came from other parts of the State Department. 

Linick was asked about the DOG IG report during a closed-door interview with lawmakers earlier this month. A source with knowledge of the interview said that Linick told lawmakers that he went to CIGIE first, but was told that the watchdog council could only investigate an inspector general and not an IG's office.

President TrumpDonald TrumpMcCarthy says he told Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene he disagreed with her impeachment articles against Biden Biden, Trudeau agree to meet next month Trump planned to oust acting AG to overturn Georgia election results: report MORE notified Congress late last month that he was firing Linick, writing that he "no longer" had the "fullest confidence" in him, a move that sparked widespread pushback from congressional Democrats. Trump subsequently said he did so at the urging of Pompeo. 

Pompeo, during a State Department briefing, defended the decision to request Linick's firing, telling reporters that he "should have done it some time ago."
 
Linick, during his interview with lawmakers, asserted that Bulatao tried to "bully" him about investigations he was running tied to Pompeo.

"Linick testified that Mr. 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, and Bulatao telling Linick that he wanted to oversee the independent investigation into allegations of a State OIG draft report leak to the media," Linick told lawmakers, according to a readout from Democrats.

Democrats want to interview Bulatao as part of their probe into Linick's firing.