U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks about the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) during a media briefing at the State Department in Washington, May 6, 2020.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday that he was unaware the State Department’s inspector general was investigating him at the time he recommended that President Donald Trump fire the internal watchdog, a new report said.
But Pompeo, in a phone interview with The Washington Post, would not provide any specific reasons why Inspector General Steve Linick was being removed from his post.
“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,” he said. “So it’s simply not possible for this to be an act of retaliation. End of story.”
When asked Monday about Linick’s firing, Trump told reporters, “I don’t know the guy at all, I never even heard of him, but I was asked to by the State Department, by Mike.”
“I offered most of my people, almost all of them, I said, ‘You know, these are [former President Barack] Obama appointees, if you’d like to let them go I think you should let them go, but that’s up to you,'” Trump said.
Linick was appointed by Obama in 2013.
“They asked me to terminate him. I have the absolute right as president to terminate,” Trump added. “I don’t know what’s going on other than that but you’d have to ask Mike Pompeo. But they did ask me to do it and I did it.”
Pompeo in his interview with the Post confirmed that he had recommended Linick’s removal to Trump.
“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,” he said. “The kinds of activities he’s supposed to undertake to make us better, to improve us.”
Pompeo declined, however, to provide specific examples of Linick’s failings, the Post reported.
Trump fired Linick in a surprise move Friday night. The president said in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Friday that he had lost confidence in Linick, without providing further explanation.
On Saturday, a Democratic aide told NBC News that Linick’s removal might have been in response to an investigation into Pompeo’s “misuse of a political appointee at the Department to perform personal tasks for himself and Mrs. Pompeo.” Those tasks included walking his dog, picking up his dry cleaning and making dinner reservations, according to NBC.
Pompeo also declined to tell the Post whether he had ever asked government employees to run his or his wife’s personal errands. “I’m not going to answer the host of unsubstantiated allegations about any of that,” he said, the newspaper reported.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., and Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s ranking member, have demanded that the Trump administration hand over all records related to Linick’s firing by Friday.
In a statement over the weekend, Engel and Menendez said that they understood Pompeo recommended Linick be fired “because the Inspector General had opened an investigation into wrongdoing by Secretary Pompeo himself.”
Some Republicans have also spoken out against Trump for firing Linick without providing a clear reason.
“Congress’s intent is clear that an expression of lost confidence, without further explanation, is not sufficient to fulfill the requirements of the IG Reform Act,” GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa said in a letter to Trump on Monday. “As you work toward filling IG roles, it is absolutely imperative than any acting leadership do not create obvious conflicts that unduly threaten the statutorily required independence of inspectors general.”
NBC and other outlets reported Monday that Linick was also nearly done with another probe, this one dealing with Pompeo’s approval of a multibillion-dollar arms sale to Saudi Arabia.
The Trump administration had issued an emergency declaration to push the deal through without requiring congressional approval. Resolutions to block the deal passed the Democrat-led House, but were vetoed by Trump. A Senate attempt to override the veto failed.
At the time this story was published, the Post’s report on its interview with Pompeo did not mention Linick’s probe of the administration’s arms deal.
Engel in a statement Monday told CNBC: “I have learned that there may be another reason for Mr. Linick’s firing. His office was investigating — at my request — Trump’s phony declaration of an emergency so he could send weapons to Saudi Arabia.”
“We don’t have the full picture yet, but it’s troubling that Secretary Pompeo wanted Mr. Linick pushed out before this work could be completed,” Engel said.