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Ousted State IG says he doesn't know status of Pompeo investigations

Ousted State IG says he doesn't know status of Pompeo investigations
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Ousted State Department Inspector General Steve Linick told House lawmakers he’s unaware if investigations into Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoSchumer meets with Biden national security picks To promote human rights and democracy, Biden should start with China The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - GOP angst in Georgia; confirmation fight looms MORE are being pursued and refuted justifications for his firing, according to a transcript released by House Democrats Wednesday.

The interview was conducted last week as part of Democratic lawmakers' investigation into the circumstances surrounding Linick’s ouster and whether it amounted to an act of political retaliation to disrupt investigations into Pompeo.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump alludes to possible 2024 run in White House remarks Trump threatens to veto defense bill over tech liability shield Tiger King's attorney believes they're close to getting pardon from Trump MORE fired Linick last month, providing a notice of intent to Congress late on a Friday evening. Pompeo said he recommended Linick’s firing to the president.

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At least two reviews of Pompeo’s actions were ongoing at the time of Linick’s firing, including allegations of misuse of federal resources by the secretary and his wife and the legality of the State Department’s justification to sell billions of dollars of weapons to Saudi Arabia without the approval of Congress.

Linick in his interview said he doesn’t know “the exact status” of these investigations.

“All I can say is it's ongoing and — their report is ongoing. That's the best I can say. I haven't been in the office for almost several weeks now, so I don't know the exact status,” he said of the probe into the Saudi arms sales, according to the transcript.

He said he has “no indication one way or the other” if reviews of Pompeo’s use of federal funds are being pursued.

Pompeo on Wednesday called Linick a “bad actor.” He had earlier criticized the former IG as “attempting to undermine the mission of the State Department." Pompeo also accused Linick's office of leaking information, while also alleging that Linick refused to be part of a team “to help protect his own officers from COVID-19” and investigated policies “he simply didn’t like.”

According to the transcript, Linick said he turned down a request by Under Secretary of State for Management Brian Bulatao to join the department’s initiative to respond to COVID-19, saying joining the effort would compromise his role as an independent auditor.

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“He did ask me through an email to join an effort to design to help design the Department's response to COVID-19, the Diplomacy Strong program,” Linick said, referring to Bulatao. “And I did advise him that that wouldn't be appropriate for me to do that because we may be auditing the Department's efforts to address COVID-19.”

Linick in his interview did not discuss details of the investigations, saying he could only confirm their existence. He confirmed that the office was looking into allegations related to the secretary and his wife over whether they misused government resources, as well as a review of Pompeo’s justification for a multibillion-dollar arms sale to Saudi Arabia.

The investigation is being spearheaded by the Democratic chairs of the House Foreign Affairs and House Oversight and Reform committees and co-led with the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The Democratic lawmakers released a statement Wednesday criticizing the State Department for withholding information that could have shed more light over whether the inspector general's ousting was meant to disrupt investigations into possible misconduct by Pompeo.

“Mr. Linick addressed head-on the shifting justifications that Administration officials have provided to the press for his termination. Mr. Linick refuted—on the record, with the understanding that false statements to Congress are punishable under the law—charges being leveled against him by these officials and their allies in Congress,” the lawmakers wrote.

“If State Department officials want to refute Mr. Linick’s account, they can do so as the Committees have requested—under the same questioning that Mr. Linick voluntarily faced. With the release of this transcript today, the American people can see that the Administration has much to answer for. With each passing day that these officials refuse to cooperate, we will continue to ask: what are they trying to hide?”

Key points of the interview with Linick were released to the public on June 3, with Democratic lawmakers raising alarm that the ousted inspector general challenged Pompeo’s assertion that he was unaware of investigations into his behavior.

Linick said in the interview with lawmakers that he had discussed an investigation with at least three aides close to Pompeo over whether the secretary and his wife had misused government resources. This included document requests from Bulatao, Deputy Secretary of State Steve Biegun and Pompeo’s executive secretary, Lisa Kenna. Linick said he never told them not to tell Pompeo.

“I wanted to make sure everybody was aware so that they wouldn’t be surprised,” he told House lawmakers.

Pompeo has said he had no knowledge of any investigations, refuting accusations that he fired Linick as political retaliation. But the secretary qualified his statements by saying he had provided written answers to an IG inquiry earlier this year.

Linick, in his interview, said he discussed the Saudi arms sales investigation with Bulatao and Biegun and asked them to arrange an interview with the secretary about this issue, but did not want to speculate about what Pompeo understood of the investigation.

“He ultimately submitted — as he already stated in public, in the media, he submitted some written answers to topic areas that we provided in advance of requesting our interview,” Linick said.

The lawmakers following Linick’s interview also revealed that the ousted IG felt that Bulatao — a close ally of Pompeo’s — had attempted to “bully” Linick over investigations, specifically into the secretary’s role of justifying the Middle East arms sales.

“I would say that sometimes the relationship was professional; at other times, he tried to bully me,” Linick said in response to a question about Bulatao, according to the transcript.

Linick said that Bulatao was “unfamiliar with the role of Inspector Generals” and at one point wanted oversight of an independent investigation into whether Linick or someone in the IG office had leaked to the media.

“Well, we also had disagreements about how a leak investigation should be conducted, and so we had some disagreements about that. He wanted to manage the scope and direction of the DOD IG investigation,” Linick said of his conversations with the under secretary.

On Monday, Bulatao requested that a federal panel of inspectors general investigate Linick in a letter that was obtained by The Hill. 

This follows charges from Republican lawmakers that Linick mishandled probes into allegations that he or his office had leaked an unpublished State Department inspector general report to the media.

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Linick was cleared of wrongdoing in March through an investigation headed by a special office within the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General called the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS).

The DCIS report, which was released Wednesday by House Democrats along with Linick’s transcript, found “no evidence” that Linick, nor 14 employees with access to the investigation, had provided the information to the media.

But GOP lawmakers have raised the issue that Linick’s request to the Defense Department's inspector general of a “limited” investigation into the media leaks was not wide enough in scope.

Leslie Shedd, a spokeswoman for the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, raised the issue following Linick’s interview on June 3 with lawmakers that the Pentagon IG’s office did not look fully into the ousted watchdog’s behavior.

“While today’s briefing did help to answer some questions, many more were left outstanding, including why the DOD IG’s investigation into Linick was ‘limited’ and why Linick withheld the DOD IG’s report from his superiors at State,” she said in a statement at the time.

“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.”

Olivia Beavers contributed to this report