In the wake of the removal of State Department Inspector General Steve Linick by President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tried to quell the controversy in an interview with The Washington Post on Monday. He did the opposite.
“I went to the President and made clear to him that Inspector General Linick wasn’t performing a function in a way that we had tried to get him to, that was additive for the State Department, very consistent with what the statute says he’s supposed to be doing,” Pompeo told the Post by way of “explanation” for his push to have Linick fired by Trump. “The kinds of activities he’s supposed to undertake to make us better, to improve us.”
Interesting! What, specifically was Linick doing that he wasn’t supposed to be doing? Pompeo didn’t say. But Brian Bulatao, the undersecretary for management at State, did. Here’s how the Post put it (bolding is mine):
“[Bulatao] said concern over Linick had grown because of a ‘pattern of unauthorized disclosures, or leaks,’ to the news media about investigations that were in an early draft form. He said that officials had no evidence Linick was personally responsible for the leaks but that the disclosures had the potential of tainting the outcome of ongoing probes.”
OK. So, Pompeo – according to Bulatao’s explanation – asked Trump to fire Linick because of leaks to the media about ongoing IG investigations that they had absolutely no evidence that Linick had been involved in? Uh, what?
Fishy, right? Especially when you consider what we know about Linick and Pompeo. To wit:
1) Pompeo had refused to sit down with the IG’s office to discuss an ongoing probe into the administration’s decision in 2019 to declare an emergency in order to bypass Congress and immediately sell $8 billion in arms sales to, among other places, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. That end-running of Congress led to bipartisan unhappiness with the administration.
2) According to Democratic New York Rep. Eliot Engel, Linick was also investigating Pompeo’s use of a State Department staffer to perform personal errands – including walking his dog. Pompeo told the Post that he was unaware of that investigation when he made the recommendation to Trump that Linick be fired. “I simply don’t know. I’m not briefed on it,” Pompeo said. “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.”
Because when you weigh what Linick’s office was apparently investigating – including Pompeo personally – against Butalao’s stated reason for his removal (there were leaks that couldn’t be traced back to him), there’s a clear imbalance there.
Will Pompeo’s decidedly inadequate explanation matter? Probably not.
Here’s why: While a handful of Republican senators – Mitt Romney, Susan Collins – have expressed their dismay with Trump’s removal of Linick as well as three other inspectors general over the past six weeks, there appears to be little appetite to change or strengthen the law governing how and why a president can fire IGs.
But Republicans’ willingness to let Pompeo (and Trump) skate doesn’t change the fact that the secretary of state’s explanation of why Linick deserves to be fired simply doesn’t check out. At all.