Washington — The State Department's inspector general who was recently fired by President Trump told lawmakers that senior department officials knew his office was examining two matters involving Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's conduct at the time of his removal, Democrats revealed Wednesday.
Steve Linick, who was terminated last month, participated in a closed-door interview with members of the House Foreign Affairs and Oversight and Reform Committees, as well as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to answer questions on his firing.
According to Democratic leaders present for the interview, Linick "confirmed that at the time he was removed as IG, his office was looking into two matters that directly touched on Secretary Pompeo's conduct and that senior State Department officials were aware of the investigations."
The ongoing probes involved allegations of misuse of government resources by the secretary of state and his wife, Democrats said Linick told them. He also confirmed to lawmakers that the inspector general's office requested documents from Pompeo's office through his executive secretary. Linick said he discussed the investigation with Under Secretary of State for Management Brian Bulatao, a longtime friend of Pompeo's, and Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun, Democratic lawmakers recalled.
The Democrats said Linick told them he was "shocked" when he learned of his removal and said he did not receive any warning from Mr. Trump or Pompeo. Linick called the Trump administration's justifications for his termination "either misplaced or unfounded."
Mr. Trump notified Congress in mid-May that he would be removing Linick from his post as the State Department's internal watchdog, a position he held since 2013. But the firing prompted immediate scrutiny from Congress, and House Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Eliot Engel and Senate Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Bob Menendez, both Democrats, said they would be investigating Linick's removal.
Soon after his ouster, reports surfaced that Linick's office was examining whether Pompeo misused a State Department aide for personal errands. Engel, of New York, also revealed the inspector general was investigating at his request the Trump administration's decision to fast-track an $8 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia and bypass congressional review.
Pompeo defended Linick's firing last month and said he recommended to Mr. Trump that he be removed, telling reporters at the time he "should've done it some time ago." The secretary of state also said claims Linick's termination was retaliatory were "patently false."
Bulatao, the under secretary for management, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Monday that concerns regarding Linck grew "because of an unauthorized disclosure to the news media of information from a report about a highly-sensitive investigation."
But the Democrats who spoke with Linick, which included Engel and Menendez, said he testified that Bulatao tried to "bully" him on numerous occasions. Linick also rebuffed claims of unauthorized leaks to reporters and testified that he initiated an investigation by the Pentagon's inspector general that did not uncover unauthorized disclosures of a report on political retaliation in Pompeo's office, Democrats said.
Linick testified to Congress that Bulatao and another top State Department official urged his office not to pursue an investigation into the Saudi arms deal, according to lawmakers. While Pompeo responded in writing to questions about the emergency declaration that fast-tracked the deal, Democrats said Linick sought an interview with Pompeo after the end of the coronavirus crisis, but did not receive a response before his firing.