Mike Pompeo denies State Department inspector general firing was retaliation
Most serious watchdog probe involving Pompeo appears to concern bypassing Congress on Saudi arms sales
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday adamantly denied that he recommended firing the State Department's independent watchdog in retaliation for investigations into Pompeo's conduct as the country's top diplomat. But Pompeo again declined to provide specific reasons for Steve Linick's dismissal as inspector general.
Pompeo told reporters he was unaware of any inspector general investigation into allegations that Pompeo may have mistreated staffers by instructing them to run personal errands for him and his wife.
Thus, Pompeo said, it would have been impossible for retaliation to have been the motive behind his recommendation to President Donald Trump to dismiss Linick.
Allegations to that effect are "patently false," he said. "I couldn't possibly have retaliated."
Knew of investigation into Saudi arms sale
Pompeo did acknowledge he was aware of an investigation into his decision last year to bypass congressional objections to approve a multibillion-dollar arms sale to Saudi Arabia, because he had answered written questions about it posed by Linick's office. But Pompeo maintained he did not know the scope or scale of the investigation or where it currently stands.
Trump gave notice to fire Linick late on Friday in what some congressional aides have suggested was a move to pre-empt investigations into Pompeo's personal conduct or possible impropriety in the Saudi arms sale.
Pompeo, who previously told the Washington Post that Linick had been "undermining" the State Department's work, said he had recommended Linick's removal but refused to cite specific reasons for doing so.
Pompeo said he had been concerned about the inspector general's work for some time and that he regretted not calling for his dismissal earlier.
"I recommended to the president that Steve Linick be terminated," he said. "I frankly should have done it some time ago."
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When asked by a reporter for examples to support that statement, Pompeo replied: "Unlike others, I don't talk about personnel matters."
Linick is one of several inspectors general whom Trump has removed from office, sparking outrage among Democrats who say the administration is waging a war on accountability.
Democrats and some Republicans have questioned the firings, saying the watchdogs can only be removed for cause and that Trump's explanation that he has lost confidence in them is not enough.
Congress requires 30 days' notice of such a move — meaning Linick technically hasn't been fired yet — but Democratic Party criticism has failed to stop the removals of the other watchdogs.
Democrats call for investigation into Linick's removal
Linick was a Barack Obama administration appointee, but his office also took issue with former Democratic secretary of state Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server when she served as America's top diplomat. He also played a minor role in the impeachment investigation of Trump's Ukraine foreign policy.
Pompeo during the news conference also took an unusually harsh shot at the top Democrat on the Senate's foreign relations committee, New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez. Pompeo accused Menendez's office of being behind allegations that Linick's ouster was motivated by revenge.
Truthfully, it's not much of a mystery what happened with the Saudi arms sale. Pompeo made up a fake "emergency" so Congress wouldn't have the chance to vote down a deal that we knew was bad for the country. <br><br>Pompeo violated the law. Period. Stop. <a href="https://t.co/x4LQv3h1bm">https://t.co/x4LQv3h1bm</a>—@ChrisMurphyCT
Menendez, a Democrat, faced criminal proceedings on corruption charges that ended in a mistrial and was also the subject of a now-dismissed criminal ethics investigation.
"I don't get my ethics advice from Sen. Menendez," Pompeo said.
Menendez's office had no immediate comment on Pompeo's remark.
Menendez and Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, chairman of the House's foreign affairs committee, have initiated an investigation into Linick's firing. They demanded that administration officials preserve and turn over all records related to Linick's dismissal and provide them to the committees by Friday.
Pompeo did not respond to a question about whether the State Department would comply with the demand.
Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat who sits on the Senate's foreign relations committee, accused Pompeo on social media of violating the law with respect to the Saudi arms sales.
With files from CBC News