The secretary of state said he did not know the inspector general he fired was investigating him, though he answered written questions about an investigation of his end run around Congress for a Saudi arms sale.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday denied that he recommended firing the State Department’s independent watchdog in retaliation for investigations into Pompeo’s conduct, but declined again to provide reasons for Steve Linick’s dismissal as inspector general.
Pompeo took an unusually harsh shot at the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez. Pompeo accused the senator’s office of being behind allegations that Linick’s ouster was motivated by revenge. Pompeo said he would not take ethics lessons from Menendez, who was once prosecuted by the Justice Department on corruption charges, but his trial ended in a hung jury and prosecutors decided in early 2018 not to retry him.
“I don’t get my ethics advice from Sen. Menendez,” Pompeo said.
Menendez responded by saying Pompeo’s use of “diversion tactics by attempting to smear me is as predictable as it is shameful.”
He said that Pompeo faced an investigation “into this improper firing and into his attempt to cover up his inappropriate and possibly illegal actions,” and that it was no surprise Pompeo was lashing out against lawmakers for their congressional oversight.
Pompeo said he was unaware of any investigation into allegations that he mistreated staffers by telling them to run personal errands for him and his wife such as walking his dog and picking up dry cleaning and takeout food. Thus, Pompeo said, it would have been impossible for retaliation to have been the motive behind his recommendation to President Trump to dismiss Linick.
“It’s patently false,” he said. “I have no sense of what investigations were taking place inside the inspector general’s office. I couldn’t possibly have retaliated for all the things. I’ve seen the various stories that like, someone was walking my dog to sell arms to my dry cleaner. I mean, it’s all just crazy. It’s all crazy stuff.”
However, Pompeo acknowledged that he was aware of an investigation of 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 said he did not know the scope or scale of the investigation.
Trump fired Linick late Friday in what congressional aides have called a move to preempt investigations of Pompeo’s personal conduct or possible impropriety in the Saudi arms sale. Pompeo, who told The Washington Post that Linick had been “undermining” the State Department’s work, said he recommended Linick’s removal, but refused to cite reasons.
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.”
Linick is one of several inspectors general that Trump has removed from office, sparking outrage that the administration is waging war on accountability. Democrats and some Republicans have questioned the firings, saying the watchdogs can be removed only for cause and that Trump’s explanation that he has lost confidence in them is not enough.
Linick was an Obama administration appointee whose office was critical of what it saw as political bias in the State Department’s current management but also had taken issue with Democratic appointees. He also played a minor role in the Ukraine impeachment investigation of Trump.
In October, Linick turned over documents to House investigators that he had received from a State Department counselor, T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, a close Pompeo associate. The material contained information from debunked conspiracy theories about Ukraine’s role in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Menendez and Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel of New York, chairman of the House 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, an omission that Engel lamented in a statement.
“It’s disappointing that Secretary Pompeo didn’t seize the opportunity to clear up the questions surrounding his recommendation to fire Inspector General Linick, or to commit to fulfilling the records request I made with Senator Menendez,” Engel said. “Our investigation will go forward and we still hope for the Secretary’s cooperation.”
By MATTHEW LEE