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Pompeo Defends Firing of Inspector General, Denying It Was Retaliation

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday defended his recommendation to fire the State Department’s inspector general, saying he should have done it sooner.

Tersely responding to questions from reporters at a State Department briefing, Mr. Pompeo called it “patently false” that he asked President Trump to dismiss the inspector general, Steve A. Linick, as retaliation for the opening of inquiries into his potential misuse of government resources. Mr. Pompeo said he had been unaware of those investigations when he made his recommendation to the president.

He refused to give his reasons for wanting Mr. Linick removed, citing personnel privacy issues. But of his request that Mr. Linick be dismissed, Mr. Pompeo said he “frankly should have done it some time ago.”

He also called the allegations of his wrongdoing “all crazy stuff.”

“Let’s be clear: there are claims that this was for retaliation for some investigation that the inspector general’s office here was engaged in,” Mr. Pompeo said. “That’s patently false. I have no sense of what investigations were taking place inside the inspector general’s office; couldn’t possibly have retaliated.”

Mr. Trump notified Congress of Mr. Linick’s dismissal last Friday night, starting the clock on a 30-day review process by lawmakers. Mr. Trump had previously fired or demoted three other inspectors general earlier this spring, and the dismissal of Mr. Linick led Democrats in the House and Senate to begin an inquiry into the ouster.

Congressional officials have said that Mr. Linick, who has served as the State Department inspector general since 2013, was examining several areas of policy and potential misuse of government resources that had raised concerns.

One investigation by Mr. Linick’s office focused on whether Mr. Pompeo and his wife, Susan, had tasked State Department employees with menial household chores, including walking the family dog and picking up dry cleaning, a Democratic aide said.

A report published late Tuesday by NBC outlined details of another potential example of the couple’s misuse of government resources for personal gain: hosting taxpayer-funded dinners at the State Department for political donors and supporters as he eyes a future campaign for higher office.

A State Department spokeswoman has defended the dinners as an opportunity for the guests — nearly 500 invitees from the corporate, political and diplomatic communities at about two dozen events since 2018 — to discuss foreign policy. But NBC’s review of the guest list, which the State Department has not publicly released, found that only 14 percent of the guests were diplomats or foreign officials.

Mr. Linick’s office was also investigating at least one policy issue tied directly to Mr. Pompeo, whether the Trump administration acted illegally last year in declaring an “emergency” to bypass a congressional freeze on arms sales. Ending the freeze allowed American companies, including Raytheon, to sell at least $8.1 billion of arms to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Lawmakers from both parties had put a hold on the sales in 2017 because of reports of mass civilian deaths in the Saudi-led air war in Yemen and because of a political rift among Persian Gulf nations.

Mr. Pompeo, who announced the “emergency” last year, was aware of the investigation, which was nearing completion. He had declined to sit down for an interview with Mr. Linick’s investigators and had provided written answers instead, which lawyers likely helped shape, according to three people with knowledge of the events.

During his Wednesday briefing, Mr. Pompeo said that he had responded in writing to one inspector general inquiry, but did not specify the topic of the investigation.

“I don’t know the scope, I don’t know the nature of that investigation,” Mr. Pompeo said. “I did what was right. I don’t know if that investigation is continuing. I don’t know if that investigation has been closed out.”

In early March, investigators told senior State Department officials of their preliminary findings in the Saudi inquiry, which is customary before reports are released.

Questions over the possible misuse of taxpayer funds by Mr. Pompeo, including on frequent trips aboard department aircraft to his adopted home state, Kansas, have dogged the secretary since he began his current job in April 2018.

In his previous position as C.I.A. director, employees had asked questions about Mrs. Pompeo’s unusually active volunteer role at the agency’s headquarters in Langley, Va., where she borrowed office space.

“I’ve seen the various stories that someone was walking my dog to sell arms to my dry cleaner,” Mr. Pompeo said on Wednesday. “It’s all just crazy. It’s all crazy stuff.”

Before joining the Trump administration in 2017, Mr. Pompeo was a Republican congressman representing a Kansas district, and he and Mrs. Pompeo asked staff members in his Washington office to perform tasks that included picking up dry cleaning, making restaurant reservations and compiling Christmas card lists, according to people with knowledge of the events. However, the boundaries between personal and professional activities for members of Congress are often blurred, and some of the tasks straddled that line.

In his opening remarks to the media on Wednesday, Mr. Pompeo focused on what he described as a litany of misdeeds by China, including its initial efforts to conceal the threat of the coronavirus and human rights abuses in Hong Kong.

Source: NY times

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