Ousted watchdog says he told top State aides about Pompeo probe
Steven Linick, the ousted State Department inspector general (IG), told lawmakers that he was investigating Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for allegations of misusing government resources and that he had discussed the probe with other State Department officials.
The disclosure was part of a readout from top Democrats on the House Oversight and Reform, House Foreign Affairs and Senate Foreign Relations committees, which interviewed Linick on Wednesday as part of their probe of his firing last month.
“Mr. Linick confirmed that at the time he was removed as IG, his office was looking into two matters that directly touched on Secretary Pompeo’s conduct and that senior State Department officials were aware of his investigations,” Reps. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said in a joint statement.
According to a readout of Linick’s interview from Democrats, Linick confirmed to lawmakers that at the time of his firing “there was an ongoing investigation into allegations of misuse of government resources by Secretary Pompeo and his wife.”
Democrats say that Linick also told them the IG’s office asked Pompeo’s office for documents related to the investigation through Executive Secretary Lisa Kenna, and that Linick personally discussed the probe into potential misuse of government funds with Under Secretary of State for Management Brian Bulatao and Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun.
Linick told Democrats that “his staff had these discussions so State Department leadership ‘would not be surprised,’ ” according to the readout from lawmakers.
Spokespeople for the State Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about Linick’s remarks. Trump fired Linick last month, stating that he did not have his complete confidence. He later told reporters that he fired Linick because Pompeo asked him to.
Democrats have raised the issue that the IG was looking into the secretary’s alleged misuse of a political appointee to run personal errands like walking his dog, picking up his dry cleaning and making dinner reservations for the Pompeos, allegations that were first reported by NBC news.
In addition to a potential misuse of funds by Pompeo and his wife, Linick was also investigating a Saudi arms sale. Linick, according to Democrats, told lawmakers that Bulatao and Marik String, the acting State Department legal adviser, said that the watchdog’s office should not pursue the investigation.
“Mr. Linick also testified that Under Secretary Bulatao—a longtime friend of Secretary Pompeo—attempted to ‘bully’ the Inspector General on several occasions. Mr. 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,” Linick told lawmakers, according to Democrats.
But Republicans said that the interview with Linick left unresolved questions, including how congressional Democrats had details of IG investigations.
“It’s also still unknown how our Democrat colleagues had detailed information about ongoing IG investigations at State that we were not privy to. We are continuing to look into this matter,” said Leslie Shedd, a spokeswoman for Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
A source familiar with the interview added that Democrats “spent a lot of their time” asking about the investigations Linick was conducting instead of why he was fired. The source added that it “leaves the impression this was just a way for them to try and stick it to Secretary Pompeo.”
Democrats are probing Linick’s firing, including investigating whether or not he was fired as a form of political retaliation.
Engel, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said last month that they would expand the investigation to include 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 Pompeo’s decision to ask Trump to remove him.
Menendez and Engel, along with Maloney, who chairs the House Oversight and Reform Committee, have also requested interviews from Bulatao, Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs Clarke Cooper, String and Kenna.
During a State Department briefing last month, Pompeo denied any knowledge of investigations being undertaken by Linick, saying charges of political retaliation are “patently false.”
“I’ve seen the various stories that someone was walking my dog to sell arms to my dry cleaner, I mean, it’s just crazy,” he said.
Pompeo also told The Washington Post that he asked Trump to fire Linick because he believed the IG was not working in a way that made the State Department better.
“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 in a phone interview with the Post.
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