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Ousted Linick Confirms Pompeo Probe    06/04 06:34

   

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Ousted State Department Inspector General Steve Linick on 
Wednesday told members of three congressional committees that before he was 
abruptly fired, he was investigating Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's use of 
government resources as well as the secretary's decision to approve a 
multibillion-dollar arms sale to Saudi Arabia.

   Democrats are investigating President Donald Trump's firing of Linick  
one of several inspector generals he has recently ousted  and whether it was 
a retaliatory move. Pompeo has said he recommended that the inspector general 
be terminated, but insisted it wasn't retribution. Linick was an Obama 
administration appointee whose office had been critical of what it saw as 
political bias in the State Department's current management, but had also taken 
issue with Democratic appointees.

   House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., House 
Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and New Jersey 
Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 
said in a joint statement with other lawmakers that they still have many 
unanswered questions about the firing.

   "Mr. 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 his investigations," 
the Democrats said. They said that Linick testified that he was "shocked" when 
he was fired.

   Their statement said Linick confirmed there was an ongoing investigation 
into "allegations of misuse of government resources by Secretary Pompeo and his 
wife." Linick said he had informed officials close to Pompeo of the 
investigation, including by requesting documents from his executive secretary, 
the Democrats said.

   Pompeo, though, told reporters after Linick was fired last month that he was 
unaware of any investigation into allegations that he may have mistreated 
staffers by instructing 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, the move could not have been retaliatory.

   Pompeo did acknowledge then that he was aware of the probe 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 he maintained he did not know the scope or scale 
of the investigation.

   Linick confirmed that probe as well, and told the investigators his office 
had requested an interview with Pompeo but that the secretary had refused. The 
Democrats said Linick testified he had been pressured by Brian Bulatao, an 
undersecretary of State who is an old friend of Pompeo.

   "Mr. Linick testified that Mr. Bulatao pressured him to act in ways that Mr. 
Linick felt were inappropriate  including Bulatao telling Linick that the 
investigation into weapons sales to Saudi Arabia was not a matter for the IG to 
investigate," the committees said.

   Republicans questioned Linick on whether he had leaked information about 
sensitive investigations, which the administration has suggested played a part 
in his dismissal. In a letter to Engel this week, Bulato wrote that "concern 
over Linick had grown" concerning the handling of an investigation that was 
leaked in the media and later reviewed.

   The Democrats said Linick rejected that explanation, saying it was "either 
misplaced or unfounded."

   In his opening statement, released before the interview and obtained by The 
Associated Press, Linick said he has "served without regard to politics" in his 
nearly three-decade career in public service and has always been committed to 
independent oversight.

   The investigation is part of a larger congressional efforts to find out more 
about Trump's recent moves to sideline several independent government 
watchdogs. Engel and Menendez have been demanding answers and documents from 
the State Department on other matters for months, to little avail, and are now 
teaming up to try to force a complete explanation from Pompeo and the White 
House as to why Trump fired Linick.

   The committee has asked several other State Department officials to sit for 
interviews in the probe, including Bulatao, Assistant Secretary for 
Political-Military Affairs Clarke Cooper, Pompeo's executive secretary Lisa 
Kenna and acting State Department legal adviser Marik String. The committees 
said they will release transcripts shortly after each interview.

   Democrats and some Republicans have pushed the administration for more 
answers about the inspector general firings, but the White House has provided 
few, simply stating the dismissals were well within Trump's authority.

   Linick played a small role in Trump's impeachment last year, an involvement 
that has added fuel to Democratic suspicions of retaliation. In October, Linick 
turned over documents to House investigators that he had received from a close 
Pompeo associate that contained information from debunked conspiracy theories 
about Ukraine's role in the 2016 U.S. election. Democrats were probing Trump's 
pressure on Ukraine to investigate his political opponents.

   He is the second inspector general to be fired who was involved with the 
impeachment process. Michael Atkinson, the former inspector general for the 
intelligence community, triggered the impeachment probe when he alerted 
Congress about a whistleblower complaint that described a call between Trump 
and Ukraine's president last summer. Trump fired Atkinson in April, saying he 
had lost confidence in him.

   The president also moved to replace the chief watchdog at the Department of 
Health and Human Services, Christi Grimm, who testified that her office was 
moving ahead with new reports and audits on the department's response to the 
coronavirus pandemic despite Trump's public criticism of her.

   In addition, Trump demoted acting Defense Department Inspector General Glenn 
Fine, effectively removing him as head of a special board to oversee auditing 
of the coronavirus economic relief package. Fine later resigned.

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