President Trump granted Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s wish to rid his department of its top watchdog when the president fired Inspector General Steve Linick late Friday night. But the move has caused an uproar following news that Linick had nearly completed an investigation into the secretary’s involvement in fast-tracking an $8 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia last year.
Pompeo was also under investigation by the now-ousted IG for allegedly tasking a political aide at the State Department to run personal errands for himself and his wife.
But on Monday, the secretary denied any knowledge of either inquiry, thus claiming it was “impossible” for Linick’s firing “to be an act of retaliation. End of story.”
Pompeo told The Washington 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,” he said. “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.”
“So it’s simply not possible for this to be an act of retaliation. End of story,” the secretary added.
According to reports by both Politico and CNN, however, Pompeo refused an interview request from the State Department’s IG office regarding the Saudi arms sale. Trump bypassed Congress on the deal by declaring a national emergency, and then later vetoed bipartisan bills meant to block the sales.
The Post went to say that Pompeo admitted to asking the president to fire Linick but gave no details as to why, except to say that the now-former IG was “undermining” the department’s mission.
Three officials from different congressional committees told NBC News that investigators believe both of Linick’s probes “contributed to his firing.” And both House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Menendez, are looking for more information from the Trump administration regarding Linick’s removal.
Engel released a statement on Monday saying that the former IG was looking into the Saudi deal at his request and that the firing of Linick was “troubling.”
“[Linick’s] 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.
Later on Monday, Trump played dumb when asked about the Saudi arms deal connection to this controversy and spun the question by talking about America cashing in on big military deals. “When somebody pays us a fortune for arms, we should get the deal done,” Trump said.
Trump: You’re just telling me about walking a dog and what did you say doing dishes?
Reporter: Saudi Arms Sales pic.twitter.com/tRd6YUQVlA
— Acyn Torabi (@Acyn) May 18, 2020
Trump also said he had no issue with removing Linick when Pompeo made the request.
“I said, ‘Who appointed him?’ And they say, ‘President Obama.’ I said, ‘Look, I will terminate him.’ I don’t know what’s going on other than that. You would have to ask Mike Pompeo. They did ask me to do it, and I did it,” Trump said.
Republican Sen. Mitt Romney addressed the string of watchdogs Trump has disposed of recently in a Saturday-night tweet, writing, “The firings of multiple Inspectors General is unprecedented; doing so without good cause chills the independence essential to their purpose. It is a threat to accountable democracy and a fissure in the constitutional balance of power.”
Predictably, Trump responded in an infantile way on Monday, also via Twitter, by calling Romney a “LOSER!”