WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is denying congressional subpoenas for four key witnesses in a months-long investigation into his role in the firing of State Department Inspector General Steven Linick.
The department instructed subpoenaed officials not to appear before Congress until “a mutually acceptable accommodation can be reached,” according to a letter sent late Friday to the Hill and obtained by NBC News.
“Let me express how outrageous it is for you to suggest that the Department is ‘stonewalling’ any investigation into the President’s replacing of Steve Linick,“ Pompeo wrote to House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel. “For the past three months, you have refused every offer and attempt by the Department to reach a mutually agreeable accommodation to provide you with information you purport to seek.”
According to the letter, the State Department offered for the witnesses to appear as soon as Aug. 13th for a classified, on the record hearing before the committees despite Under Secretary for Management Brian Bulatao being the only official with knowledge of the circumstances surrounding Linick’s ousting.
“The Administration continues to cover up the real reasons for Mr. Linick’s firing by stonewalling the Committees’ investigation and refusing to engage in good faith," Engel said in a statement Tuesday. "That stonewalling has made today’s subpoenas necessary, and the Committees will continue to pursue this investigation to uncover the truth that the American people deserve."
Linick’s replacement, Stephen Akard, director of the Office of Foreign Missions and longtime associate of Vice President Pence, stepped down earlier this week. He was the third person to hold the position in three months.
Within hours of Pompeo’s letter, U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom Woody Johnson was also requested to appear before the committees as part of the probe. Johnson is accused of making racist and sexist comments to embassy staff and misusing his diplomatic post to advance the personal and financial interests of President Donald Trump. The Office of the Inspector General had completed its investigation into Johnson when he was ousted in late May, but the report has yet to be publicly released.
The State Department has backed the ambassador without directly addressing the allegations.
"Ambassador Johnson is a valued member of the team who has led Mission UK honorably and professionally. We stand by Ambassador Johnson and look forward to him continuing to ensure our special relationship with the UK is strong," the department said in a statement.
Earlier Friday, nominee for U.S. ambassador to Peru and Pompeo’s executive secretary Lisa Kenna, another key witness, appeared voluntarily before the congressional committees in a closed door deposition. In her position as executive secretary, Kenna sees nearly all of the memos and paperwork set before Pompeo and is aware of the majority of his calls. Kenna has denied involvement or awareness of the circumstances surrounding Linick’s removal.
Among the four facing congressional subpoenas is Bulatao, a senior adviser and longtime Pompeo friend, who was accused of bullying the IG during the course of his investigations into an $8 billion emergency arms sale as well as a review of Pompeo and wife Susan's potential misuse of Department resources. Bulatao was slated to testify July 2, but the committees delayed the appearance at the request of the State Department, which wanted to review the completed IG report into the emergency arms sale. That report, similarly, has not yet been published.
Two key witnesses to the arms sale, acting State Department legal adviser Marik String and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Michael Miller were also among those subpoenaed by the committee, as well as senior adviser Toni Porter, who is central to the investigation into the potential abuse of State Department resources.
Pompeo has maintained he was unaware of the inspector general’s ongoing investigations save one and played no role in his recommendation to the president that Linick be removed from the office.
“It's not remotely the reason,” Pomeo told Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez in testimony last month.
“You said that the IG was not performing in the way he should have, because he wasn't following an essence what you wanted to.” Menedez said in response. “Inspector generals aren't supposed to follow what the department head wants to, they're supposed to be independent in pursuit of their mission.”