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Pompeo advised firing of State Department watchdog, White House official says

The secretary of state "recommended the move," and President Donald Trump agreed, the official said.
Image: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pauses while speaking at a news conference at the State Department
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at a news conference in Washington on April 29, 2020.Andrew Harnik / AFP - Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Less than 24 hours after the sudden firing of a State Department watchdog critical of personnel moves within the agency, a White House official said the ouster came on the advice of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Pompeo "recommended the move," and President Donald Trump "agreed," the official said.

State Department Inspector General Steve Linick, who was fired Friday night, "was looking into the Secretary's misuse of a political appointee at the Department to perform personal tasks for himself and Mrs. Pompeo," a Democratic aide told NBC News.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., said Friday that he had learned that Linick "had opened an investigation into Pompeo."

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Trump informed Congress of the move in a letter Friday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., saying he no longer had full confidence in Linick.

"It is vital that I have the fullest confidence in the appointees serving as Inspectors General," Trump said in the letter. "That is no longer the case with regard to this Inspector General."

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, co-chair of the Whistleblower Protection Caucus, said Congress is entitled to a more thorough explanation. He called inspectors general "crucial in correcting government failures and promoting the accountability that the American people deserve."

"As I've said before, Congress requires written reasons justifying an IG's removal," Grassley said. "A general lack of confidence simply is not sufficient detail to satisfy Congress."

Grassley added that Linick filled the inspector general role after the Obama administration had left it empty for several years.

"Although he failed to fully evaluate the State Department's role in advancing the debunked Russian collusion investigation, those shortcomings do not waive the President's responsibility to provide details to Congress when removing an IG," Grassley said.

Engel and Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, announced Saturday that they would launch an investigation. They asked the Trump administration to turn over records and information related to the firing by Friday.

Engel said he would be "looking into this matter in greater detail."

During the coronavirus pandemic, Trump has also fired the intelligence community's watchdog, Michael Atkinson, and replaced acting Inspector General Glenn Fine at the Defense Department.

The new State Department watchdog will be Stephen Akard, an ally of Vice President Mike Pence, a spokesperson said Friday. Akard was chief of staff for the Indiana Economic Development Corporation when Pence was governor of the state.

Monica Alba reported from Washington and Alicia Victoria Lozano from Los Angeles.