- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday defended last week’s abrupt firing of the department’s official watchdog, sharply denying allegations the firing of State Department Inspector General Steve Linick was payback for investigations the IG was conducting of Mr. Pompeo himself.

Mr. Pompeo acknowledged that he personally recommended to President Trump that Mr. Linick be “terminated” and said that in hindsight, last week’s firing should have been done “some time ago.” But his combative remarks did not stop a groundswell of Democratic criticism on the Hill over the dismissal.

Charges of retaliation were “patently false,” Mr. Pompeo told reporters at the State Department. “I have no sense of what investigations were taking place inside the inspector general’s office.”

But he also offered no specific reason for the move announced late Friday night by the White House, saying, “The president has the unilateral right to choose who he wants to be his inspector general at every agency in the federal government.”

The comments came after days of silence on the matter from the State Department, following a slew of allegations from Democrats on Capitol Hill who claim the administration wanted to silence Mr. Linick — the latest in a string of clashes between the White House and government inspectors general — over probes of matters relating to both policy and personal questions.

Mr. Pompeo in some news accounts was reportedly upset that Mr. Linick was probing his alleged use of State Department political appointees to walk his dogs and deliver his dry cleaning.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot L. Engel said this week he believes Mr. Linick may have been fired for investigating the secretary’s rare invocation of an “emergency declaration” to push through a weapons deal with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Mr. Linick’s “office was investigating — at my request — Trump’s phony declaration of an emergency so he could send weapons to Saudi Arabia,” the New York Democrat said in a statement.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that Mr. Pompeo had agreed to provide written answers to an IG probe on the Saudi deal, suggesting the secretary was aware that the Saudi deal at least was being scrutinized by Mr. Linick’s team of investigators.

Mr. Pompeo said Wednesday there was one unspecified “exception” to his lack of knowledge of the IG’s work, saying he responded in writing “questions with respect to a particular investigation” — which he did not identify — and adding he did not know the status of the probe in question.

Mr. Pompeo complained Wednesday about what he said was wild speculation about the firing that was wrongfully “leaked” to the news media over the past week. “I mean, it’s all just crazy,” he said.

Saying he had little direct knowledge of the IG’s work, Mr. Pompeo argued “it’s not possible for there to have been retaliation.”

Mr. Trump this week confirmed he acted at Mr. Pompeo’s request to fire Mr. Linick, saying he did not know the IG but that “he’s an Obama appointment and he had some difficulty.”

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and a fierce defender of federal whistleblowers and the IG system, pressed the White House this week to give a fuller explanation for Mr. Linick’s removal, as required by law.

But congressional Democrats have been far more aggressive, with Mr. Engel and New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, saying they intend to probe the matter much more deeply.

Mr. Pompeo lashed out at Mr. Menendez Wednesday, blaming him for the false charges surrounding the firing and citing the New Jersey lawmaker’s long ordeal battling federal corruption charges.

“I don’t get my ethics guidance from a man who was criminally prosecuted … a man for whom his Senate colleagues — bipartisan — said basically that he was taking bribes,” the secretary of state said. “That’s not someone who I look to for ethics guidance.”

Mr. Menendez in turn accused Mr. Pompeo on Wednesday of engaging in “diversion tactics,” asserting that the secretary of state’s attempt “to smear me is as predictable as it is shameful.”

Mr. Engel also issued a statement, saying it was “disappointing that Secretary Pompeo didn’t seize the opportunity to clear up the questions surrounding his recommendation to fire Inspector General Linick.”

“Our investigation will go forward,” Mr. Engel said, adding that he and Mr. Menendez “hope for the secretary’s cooperation.”

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