The State Department inspector general whom President Donald Trump fired last week was reportedly investigating why Secretary of State Mike Pompeo fast-tracked more than $8 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia and its allies and whether Pompeo made a staffer run personal errands for him.
Steve Linick, a career State Department official who has served as the agency’s inspector general since 2013, was probing the arms deal because of lawmakers’ frustration that it was carried out without normal congressional oversight, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told The Washington Post on Monday.
Pompeo used an emergency declaration from Trump to transfer the weapons to the Saudis, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan in May 2019. Weeks later, a handful of Republicans voted with congressional Democrats to stop the sale and Trump vetoed the legislation.
Linick had recently briefed the State Department on the results of his inquiry into the administration’s claim that national security concerns justified its approach, congressional aides told the Post. Democrats have highlighted the role of a then-State Department official who was previously a lobbyist for Raytheon, a major weapons producer, in rolling out the emergency declaration.
“It’s troubling that Secretary Pompeo wanted Mr. Linick pushed out before this work could be completed,” Engel told the outlet.
Linick was also investigating whether Pompeo made a staffer walk his dog, pick up his dry cleaning and make dinner reservations for him and his wife, NBC News and CNN reported on Sunday. NBC described the official as a “political appointee who was serving as a staff assistant.”
The secretary personally requested Linick’s firing, the White House confirmed to NBC and the Post.
The secretary of state has reportedly been probed in the past for his alleged misuse of staff to run personal tasks.
CNN reported last summer that Democratic congressional investigators were looking into allegations made by a State Department whistleblower about Pompeo’s alleged use of taxpayer-funded special agents to “pick up Chinese food” and the “Pompeo family dog from a groomer,” among other errands.
Trump announced Linick’s firing in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Friday.
“It is vital that I have the fullest confidence in the appointees serving as Inspectors General. That is no longer the case with regard to this Inspector General,” Trump wrote.
The president, who has fired multiple inspectors general in recent months, including intelligence community watchdog Michael Atkinson, was criticized by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle for Linick’s abrupt removal.
“As I’ve said before, Congress requires written reasons justifying an IG’s removal. A general lack of confidence simply is not sufficient detail to satisfy Congress,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said on Saturday of Linick’s ouster.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) described the firings of multiple inspectors general as “unprecedented.”
“[D]oing so without good cause chills the independence essential to their purpose,” he tweeted. “It is a threat to accountable democracy and a fissure in the constitutional balance of power.”
Engel has said the timing of Linick’s removal suggests “an unlawful act of retaliation.” He and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the most senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, have since launched an investigation into Linick’s ouster.
Trump should send Congress a detailed explanation for the firing of Linick by June 1, Grassley told the president in a Monday letter.
“I want to work with you to ensure that the enemy here is wasteful government spending, not the government watchdogs charged with protecting the taxpayer,” the Senate Finance Committee chairman wrote to his fellow Republican.
Igor Bobic contributed reporting.