State Department watchdog fired by Trump pressed on whether Pompeo probes covered workplace violence

Former State Department Inspector General Steve Linick on Wednesday told lawmakers that he does not know what happened to any of the five probes which he had been conducting into Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the time of his firing last month — three more than were previously known.

According to a transcript of hearings with multiple congressional committees released Wednesday, one of the new investigations may possibly involve violence in the workplace.

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“Was there a third investigation or review that your office was conducting related to workplace violence?” Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., asked.

“I’m not going to comment on that at this time,” Linick responded. “I can’t comment on that.”

“Were there other investigations or reviews that your office was conducting that would put Secretary Pompeo or the administration in a negative light or cause embarrassment?” Lieu asked.

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“I don’t want to speculate what would put them in a negative light or not,” Linick said.

Initial reports following Linick’s sacking indicated that he was probing possible misuse of government resources, such as allegations that Pompeo had made an aide walk his dog at taxpayer expense and handle dinner reservations for him and his wife.

NBC News later revealed that Pompeo and his wife had hosted lavish, taxpayer-funded dinners at department headquarters, featuring CEOs, Fox News personalities and Republican megadonors alongside foreign dignitaries. It is unclear whether Linick was investigating the dinners.

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Linick was also preparing to interview Pompeo in connection with an investigation into an $8 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia.

On Wednesday, he also confirmed the existence of three additional, previously-unreported investigations, adding that all three “involve the Office of the Secretary in some way.”

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The three probes, he said, concern an audit of special immigrant visas, an “ongoing review” involving the International Women of Courage Award and another ongoing review “involving individuals in the Office of the Protocol.”

“And this goes for anything I would say in this hearing: I am never going to confirm or deny the existence of any criminal investigations,” Linick added. “I would never do that, you know, in any respect. So I just want to make that clear, for the record.”

Linick could not say what might have happened to the investigations.

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In testimony to Democratic and Republican lawmakers and staff from the House Foreign Affairs and Oversight Committees, as well as to Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Linick said he was “shocked” when President Donald Trump fired him on May 15, an abrupt move which came at Pompeo’s personal request.

“I was completely taken by surprise,” Linick told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“I just had a townhall with my staff on COVID-19, and I was in a state of shock because I had not been — I had no advance notice of anything like that,” he continued.

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Linick had told diplomatic officials that he had been looking into allegations that Pompeo and his wife may have improperly used department resources.

Pompeo had also provided written responses to questions posed by Linick in advance of an interview about the circumstances surrounding the arms deal with Saudi Arabia, which Linick and congressional committees had each been investigating. Linick was fired before that interview happened.

“I wanted to make sure everybody was aware so that they wouldn’t be surprised,” he said when asked if he had wanted to make sure Pompeo was aware he might be a target.

“And I didn’t tell them not to tell anybody, including Secretary Pompeo, about them. There was no — from my point of view, I just wanted to make sure that folks on the seventh floor knew what we were doing before they just got a document request,” Linick added, referencing the floor where Pompeo and his top staff have offices.

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Pompeo has denied knowing about the ongoing investigations, claiming that he had no way of being told about the inspector general’s independent work. This, Pompeo claims, should disprove allegations that he had asked Trump to fire Linick in retaliation.

But Linick complicated that narrative, testifying that he had discussed the probes in detail with Undersecretary of State Brian Bulatao, a top Pompeo adviser who has known the secretary since they attended West Point together. Linick said Bulatao had tried to “bully” him and wanted to block him from investigating the Saudi deal.

It was the only time he could recall Bulatao pushing back against an investigation, Linick said.

That arms deal — which allowed U.S. defense contractor Raytheon to cooperate with the Saudi government to build precision-guided bombs at plants in Saudi Arabia, reportedly giving the Saudis an inside look at sensitive military technology — sparked an investigation last June by the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

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“I want to hear from the State Department official tomorrow: Who all was involved in this decision making?” Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., a committee member, said to the New York Times last June. “It would be problematic if a former lobbyist for a defense contractor was involved.”

Lieu was referencing Charles Faulkner, a former Raytheon lobbyist who at the time held a senior position at the State Department. After Faulkner resigned last year amid the scandal, he was rehired months later at the Department of Homeland Security, where he works today, Salon first reported.

Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., linked the investigation directly to Linick’s ouster.

“I have learned that there may be another reason for Mr. Linick’s firing. 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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“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 Washington Post in an interview last month.

“The kinds of activities he’s supposed to undertake to make us better — to improve us,” he added.

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