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Fired inspector general says he told aides about Pompeo probe so that they ‘wouldn’t be surprised’

State Department Inspector General Steve Linick leaves a meeting at the Capitol in October. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Before he was fired last month, State Department Inspector General Steve Linick said, he told top aides he was investigating the personal conduct of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife “so that they wouldn’t be surprised,” according to a transcript of Linick’s remarks to congressional investigators last week.

Pompeo has said repeatedly that he had no knowledge of the inspector general’s probe into allegations that he and his wife inappropriately used government resources and that it is “patently false” he wanted Linick fired as retaliation for any investigations his office was conducting.

Asked about Linick’s statement, Pompeo said Wednesday that he hadn’t yet seen the transcript of the inspector general’s closed-door interview with lawmakers.

“Here’s what I can tell you,” Pompeo told reporters hours after the transcript was released. “Steve Linick was a bad actor in the inspector general office. He didn’t take on the mission of the State Department to make us better. That’s what inspectors general are supposed to do. . . . As I’ve said before, my mistake was letting Mr. Linick stay here as long as he did.”

Fired inspector general was examining whether Pompeo had a staffer walk his dog, handle dry cleaning, official says

Linick’s interview was the opening salvo in a Democratic-led inquiry into his May 15 firing, which President Trump said he did at Pompeo’s behest. The chairmen of the House Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees, along with the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, have also requested transcribed interviews with Pompeo’s deputy and executive staff.

In response, Undersecretary for Management Brian Bulatao said in a letter last week to Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.) that Linick’s dismissal was the president’s prerogative and that “it is difficult to understand why the Foreign Affairs Committee believes this action would warrant the time or resources contemplated by the Committee’s several requests for transcribed interviews of Department personnel.”

In the interview, Linick was questioned extensively about a lawmaker-requested review of Pompeo’s declaration of a national security “emergency” last year to bypass required congressional approval of an $8.1 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia. Democrats have called the emergency “bogus.”

Pompeo initially denied knowing about that investigation but later acknowledged that, while refusing a face-to-face interview with the inspector general, he had submitted written answers to questions early this year.

Linick also confirmed that the State Department had been briefed this spring about the findings of what he called the still “incomplete” review of the Saudi matter.

Throughout the interview, Linick declined to characterize the motives of State Department officials or what was going through their heads, or to provide specifics of still unreleased investigations.

But he spoke of a series of run-ins with Bulatao. “I would say that sometimes the relationship was professional; at other times, he tried to bully me,” Linick said.

“We had a number of disagreements about the way in which a leak investigation was going to be handled,” Linick said.

The reference was an IG report that found that the department’s office of policy planning, and in particular it’s then-head, Brian Hook, had in 2017 acted against several career officials deemed to be politically disloyal because they had also served during the Obama administration. A particular allegation held that one career official was also demoted because of her Iranian heritage.

Findings of some misconduct were leaked to the media before the report was released. Linick said that, in addition to efforts to change the report before it was made public, his office was accused of the leak.

In his letter to Engel, Bulatao said Linick had resisted orders to turn the leak investigation over to an umbrella group of government inspectors general, had instead “handpicked” a Defense Department colleague to conduct it, and refused to share the results with the State Department.

Linick told lawmakers that the allegations were untrue — that he went to the Defense Department after both the umbrella group and two other inspectors general declined to do it, and that he had informed the State Department of a finding that no leaks had come from his office.

Pompeo said Wednesday that he wanted a “more thorough investigation than Mr. Linick had permitted. Mr. Linick didn’t do what he was asked to do.”

On the Saudi arms issue, Linick said, Bulatao “told me that it wasn’t an appropriate review because it was a review of policy. And I told him that, under the Foreign Service Act of 1980, it was within the IG purview to review how policy is implemented.”

“While we don’t question whether the policy is good or bad,” he said, “we do look to see . . . whether it’s being carried out in an efficient, effective manner, and whether it’s complying with rules and regulations.”

Asked about Bulatao’s response, Linick said, “He just continued to push back.”

The Saudi investigation was requested by Congress, as are many of the inspector general inquiries. Other probes are launched, Linick explained, when internal questions are brought to the inspector general’s attention or the office itself decides something warrants examination.

Linick said he first became aware of potential problems with the Pompeos’ use of government resources last year. While he refused to specify those issues, media reports have said they included the use of government-paid personnel to undertake tasks such as picking up dry cleaning and walking the dog and funds expended for Susan Pompeo to accompany her husband on government-paid travel.

“As to that review, I never spoke with the Secretary directly about it,” Linick said. “There was a point in time in late 2019 that my office reached out to get documents from the office of the secretary as well as the office of the legal adviser. And during that same period of time, I did speak with Undersecretary Bulatao, possibly Deputy Secretary [John] Sullivan — but I am not sure — about the reasons — about the fact that we were making these document requests so they weren’t surprised.”

Linick said he also spoke to Lisa Kenna, Pompeo’s executive secretary, and Deputy Secretary Steve Biegun, who replaced Sullivan late last year, about the probe.

“We requested documents,” Linick said. “That’s the most I can tell you . . . we made document requests of the Office of the Secretary, the Legal Adviser.”

Carol Morello contributed to this report.