Democrats broaden probe into firing of State Department watchdog
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Bob Menendez (N.J.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced Friday they are expanding their investigation into the firing of State Department Inspector General Steve Linick.
The lawmakers announced they plan to conduct transcribed interviews with “key officials” who may know why Linick was fired and how his investigative work at the department may have been a factor in Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s decision to ask President Trump to remove him.
“We are aware that Mr. Linick’s office was working on at least two investigations that touched directly on Secretary Pompeo’s actions at the time that Secretary Pompeo recommended that the president fire him,” Engel and Menendez said in a joint statement.
“If Pompeo pushed for Mr. Linick’s dismissal to cover up his own misconduct, that would constitute an egregious abuse of power and a clear attempt to avoid accountability,” they said.
Engel said earlier this month that Linick was investigating Trump’s use of an emergency declaration last year to allow the sale of billions of dollars in weapons to Saudi Arabia, circumventing opposition in Congress.
In a statement earlier this month, Engel said Linick’s office “was investigating at my request Trump’s phony declaration of an emergency so he could send weapons to Saudi Arabia.”
Linick was also investigating whether Pompeo improperly used a staffer to run personal errands such as walking his dog, picking up dry cleaning and making restaurant reservations, The Washington Post reported earlier this month.
Lawmakers in both parties have asked the White House to explain Linick’s firing but have received little information.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who wrote a sternly worded letter to Trump earlier this month demanding a more detailed explanation for Linick’s ouster, said a five-page response received from White House counsel Pat Cipollone this week didn’t provide enough information.
Trump informed Congress of his decision to remove Linick from his post in a May 15 letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in which he said he “no longer” had “the fullest confidence” in the inspector general.
The Inspector General Reform Act of 2008, however, requires the president to explain to Congress reasons for dismissing an inspector general and states that merely asserting lost confidence is not sufficient.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee and a frequent Trump critic, has separately inquired of the administration the reason for Linick’s firing.
He warns that Trump’s removal of several inspectors general “has the potential of sending a chilling message.”
Engel and Menendez on Friday called for officials to meet with the House Foreign Affairs and the Senate Foreign Relations panels to provide more clarity.
“Congress has demanded answers about the abrupt firing of the Inspector General, but Secretary Pompeo has failed to explain his actions. We call upon administration officials to comply and appear for interviews with the Committees, and for Secretary Pompeo to comply with the Committees’ investigation and not obstruct the American people from discovering the truth about his own actions,” Engel and Menendez said in their joint statement.