Democrats See 'Troubling' Saudi Link in Watchdog's Firing

Steve Linick was investigating decision to allow arms sales
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted May 18, 2020 3:59 PM CDT

(Newser) – State Department Inspector General Steve Linick was looking into a lot more than dog-walking and errand-running when he was abruptly fired on Friday, House Democrats say. Lawmakers have confirmed that the watchdog's other investigations included a probe of President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's decision last May to bypass Congress using a national emergency loophole and allow arms sales to Saudi Arabia, reports NBC News. Congress had delayed approval because of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. More:

  • "Troubling." House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Eliot Engel said he had asked for the Saudi investigation. "His office was investigating—at my request—Trump’s phony declaration of an emergency so he could send weapons to Saudi Arabia," Engel said in a statement. "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."

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  • Republicans are also concerned. Republican Sen. Charles Grassley has asked Trump to explain the firings of Linick and intelligence community watchdog Michael Atkinson , the AP reports. "An expression of lost confidence, without further explanation, is not sufficient to fulfill the requirements of the IG Reform Act," he said in a letter to Trump. "This is in large part because Congress intended that inspectors general only be removed when there is clear evidence of unfitness, wrongdoing, or failure to perform the duties of the office."
  • The arms sale probe. Linick opened the investigation into the emergency declaration in June last year and sent preliminary findings to the State Department early this spring, a Democratic aide tells the New York Times. The aide says Engel's office "learned more details of the circumstances around the arms sale investigation" over the weekend, leading Engel to believe it was a factor in the dismissal, though Linick's probe of Pompeo's alleged use of a staffer to run personal errands may also have contributed.
  • Pompeo: "Impossible" for it to be retaliation. Pompeo tells the Washington Post that he isn't briefed on the watchdog's investigations until 48 hours before they are released, so it would be "impossible" for the firing to have been retaliation. Pompeo tells the Post that he asked for Linick to be fired because he was "undermining" the department by not "performing a function in a way that we had tried to get him to." He adds, however, that there is no need to give a reason. "The president obviously has the right to have an inspector general," he says. "Just like every presidentially confirmed position, I can terminate them. They serve at his pleasure for any reason or no reason."
(Read more State Department stories.)

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