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Acting State Department watchdog resigns months after firing of previous inspector general

Former Inspector General Steve Linick's removal remains under congressional investigation.

The State Department's acting inspector general, Stephen Akard, who was named to the position after the department's previous longtime watchdog was fired three months ago, has resigned, a department spokesperson confirmed Wednesday.

The removal of the former inspector general, Steve Linick, which came at the recommendation of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, remains under congressional investigation.

Akard "announced he is returning to the private sector after years of public service," a State Department spokesperson said. "We appreciate his dedication to the department and to our country."

Deputy Inspector General Diana R. Shaw will become the new acting IG, the spokesperson said.

Akard announced his resignation in a letter to the staff, a State Department official told NBC News. The Washington Post was first to report the story.

Pompeo declined to comment Wednesday on how Akard’s departure after such a short tenure might affect the work of the inspector general’s office.

"He left to go back home," Pompeo told reporters at a news conference. "This happens. I don't have anything more to add to that."

Akard was also director of the Office of Foreign Missions and reported directly to the undersecretary of state for management, Brian Bulatao, in that role. Linick told Congress that Bulatao had tried to "bully" him into dropping an investigation into an $8 billion emergency arms sale to Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.

After Akard was named acting IG, lawmakers pointed to a possible conflict of interest and requested he resign as head of the Office of Foreign Missions and recuse himself from all matters involving that office and the Office of the Secretary. Akard committed to stepping down from Office of Foreign Missions operations but stayed on as its director.

Stephen J. Akard
Stephen J. Akard.Department of State

"It should've never been an appointment in that set of circumstances, and evidently he couldn’t live with what exactly the challenges he may have faced," Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told NBC News. "This only goes to show that you have a secretary of state who wants to be immune from an independent inspector general at any and all cost."

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel and House Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney said Wednesday that Akard's selection as acting inspector general "created serious conflicts of interest" because he was reporting to Balatao and Pompeo while also responsible for investigating problems at the department.

"His resignation today adds to Congress’s questions about the independence of the IG’s office following the firing of former IG Steve Linick in an apparent act of retaliation by Secretary Pompeo," the New York Democrats said in a joint statement.

Akard, a former career foreign service officer, previously served as foreign policy adviser to Vice President Mike Pence during his time as Indiana's governor.

Akard was tapped to be the director general of the Foreign Service in 2017, but his nomination was met sharp criticism from senior diplomats and was eventually withdrawn.

In a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Academy of American Diplomacy voiced its opposition, saying, "While Mr. Akard is technically eligible for the position, to confirm someone who had less than a decade in the Foreign Service would be like making a former Army Captain the Chief of Staff of the Army, the equivalent of a four-star general."

Akard was later confirmed to lead the Office of Foreign Missions in September of 2019.

As part of their investigation into the firing of Linick, House Democrats subpoenaed four State Department officials Monday, including Bulatao, and accused the Trump administration of stonewalling their probe.

The State Department did not immediately say whether it would comply with the subpoenas but called the Democrats’ accusation of stonewalling “egregiously inaccurate” and "outrageous," arguing the Department has made "good faith proposals" to satisfy the inquiry since late May.