Top Pompeo aide to testify on State watchdog’s ousting

A top aide to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will appear before a House committee probing the ousting of the State Department’s independent watchdog, according to a letter sent to Congress and obtained by The Hill.

Under Secretary of State for Management Brian Bulatao can appear before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on June 22 or June 23, Pompeo informed Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) in a letter sent late Thursday. The letter, dated June 11, was first reported by The Associated Press on Friday.

Democrats are looking into whether the ousting of State Department Inspector General Steve Linick amounted to an act of political retaliation. 

President Trump fired Linick last month at the urging of Pompeo. The secretary has defended his push for the watchdog’s ousting, saying Linick was a “bad actor” and was undermining the mission of the State Department.

But Democratic lawmakers are looking into whether Linick was fired for conducting at least two investigations involving Pompeo, including on whether the secretary and his wife misused federal resources as well as on the secretary’s role in the Trump administration’s sale of billions of dollars of weapons to Saudi Arabia without the approval of Congress.

In his letter to Engel, the secretary doubled down on his justification for firing Linick, saying he had “strange and erratic behavior.”

Linick had earlier testified to House lawmakers he was “shocked” at his abrupt firing, and said reasons given by Pompeo publicly are “unfounded or misplaced.”

Bulatao is a key player in the circumstances surrounding Linick’s ousting and was aware of both probes at the time of the watchdog’s firing.

Bulatao is a longtime ally of Pompeo. The two have a friendship that dates back to their time at West Point in the 1980s, through Harvard and then business partners in Kansas. Bulatao worked under Pompeo at the CIA before following his boss to the State Department.

Pompeo has denied that he had any knowledge that he was under review by Linick, but Democratic lawmakers say Linick’s testimony describing the awareness of Bulatao and other senior officials close to Pompeo of the probes throw the secretary’s assertion into question.

Pompeo in his letter said he was responding to a “nasty insinuation” by the chairman that the secretary was aware of the probe into the probe about the alleged use of federal resources by his wife and him, and included a letter from Deputy Secretary of State Steve Biegun refuting claims that senior officials shared any knowledge of this probe with the secretary. 

Biegun wrote in his letter that neither he, nor Bulatao, Deputy Secretary John Sullivan nor Executive Secretary Lisa Kenna ever “briefed Secretary Pompeo on, or otherwise discussed with him, this purported ‘investigation’ at any time before the President removed Mr. Linick from his position.”

Meanwhile, in his letter to Engel, Pompeo also took a shot at the 16-term congressman over his upcoming primary on June 23. 

“I hear you’ve been busy in your district, so let me get you up to speed on what’s been happening in your committee,” Pompeo wrote, with a footnote referring to a news report that said Engel is “fighting for his political survival.”

Engel responded by saying he was “puzzled why Secretary Pompeo’s letter includes so many errors” but said he’s “glad that the department is moving toward what the committees requested weeks ago: allowing Mr. Bulatao to speak on the record about the firing of Inspector General Linick.” 

“We look forward to hearing from Mr. Bulatao and all the other witnesses involved in this fiasco,” Engel also said.

— Updated at 1:54 p.m.

Tags Donald Trump Eliot Engel Mike Pompeo Steve Linick
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