WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denied that he recommended the firing of the department’s watchdog because of an investigation into Pompeo’s conduct, saying instead that the official was “undermining” the State Department’s mission.
Pompeo told the Washington Post, in an interview posted Monday, he was unaware that the ousted Inspector General Steve Linick was investigating him for allegedly using a staffer to run his personal errands. He acknowledged asking President Donald Trump to fire Linick but declined to name any specific instances of Linick’s “undermining” the State Department, the outlet reported.
“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. “The kinds of activities he’s supposed to undertake to make us better, to improve us.”
Pompeo wouldn’t respond to the Post’s questioning about the allegation whether he enlisted an aide to run his errands, according to the posted interview. “I’m not going to answer the host of unsubstantiated allegations about any of that,” he said.
Rep. Eliot Engel, the Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said that he had learned of the investigation into Pompeo on Saturday, and said it suggested Linick’s firing “is an unlawful act of retaliation.”
“It is not possible that this decision, or my recommendation rather, to the president rather, was based on any effort to retaliate for any investigation that was going on or is currently going on,” Pompeo told The Post. “Because I simply don’t know. I’m not briefed on it. I usually see these investigations in final draft form 24 hours, 48 hours before the IG is prepared to release them. So it’s simply not possible for this to be an act of retaliation. End of story.”
Trump announced Linick was being removed from his post Friday evening, explaining a loss of confidence in Linick’s ability to do the job. Engel and other Democratic lawmakers have called for an investigation into Linick’s termination, suggesting the move was part of a larger pattern of the Trump administration blocking independent oversight.
Pompeo said Monday that there did not need to be a reason for Linick’s termination.
“The president obviously has the right to have an inspector general,” he said. “Just like every presidentially confirmed position, I can terminate them. They serve at his pleasure for any reason or no reason.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., acknowledged the president’s right to fire an official, but said, “if it looks like it’s in retaliation for something that the inspector general is doing, that could be unlawful.”
Democrats have also said Linick was investigating a declaration of a national security emergency in 2019 to justify an $8.1 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia, which Pompeo did not discuss in his interview with The Post.
In a letter to Trump on Monday, Pelosi said it was “alarming” that Linick’s firing may have to do with the arms sale investigation and that Congress must be aware of a “clear and substantial cause” to fire an inspector general.
“It is alarming to see news reports that your action may have been in response to Inspector General Linick nearing completion of an investigation into the approval of billions of dollars in arms sales to Saudi Arabia,” Pelosi wrote. “Therefore, I am asking that you provide detailed and substantial justification for the removal of Inspector General Linick before the end of the 30 day period.”
Contributing: Will Cummings, Deirdre Shesgreen