Fired State Department watchdog was probing whether Pompeo made staffer walk his dog, pick up laundry

Congressional officials are trying to determine whether other investigations into Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were underway.
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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at a news conference at a foreign ministers meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Nov. 20, 2019.Kenzo Tribouillard / AFP - Getty Images file

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By Josh Lederman and Andrea Mitchell

WASHINGTON — The State Department inspector general who was removed from his job Friday was looking into whether Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a staffer walk his dog, pick up his dry cleaning and make dinner reservations for Pompeo and his wife, among other personal errands, according to two congressional officials assigned to different committees.

The officials said they are working to learn whether former Inspector General Steve Linick may have had other ongoing investigations into Pompeo.

The officials say the staffer who was alleged to have been made to do personal tasks is a political appointee who was serving as a staff assistant. CNN reported last year that congressional Democrats were investigating a different complaint, this one from a whistleblower, alleging that Pompeo's diplomatic security agents were made to perform similar personal tasks.

The House first obtained details of the inspector general investigation late last week after learning of Linick's sudden removal. Congressional oversight officials investigating the matter believe the firing was direct retaliation for his pursuing the investigation.

A White House official told NBC News that Pompeo "recommended" Linick's ouster and that President Donald Trump agreed with the move.

The State Department did not respond to requests for comment.

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In a letter Friday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Trump said it was "vital" to have "the fullest confidence in the appointees serving as Inspectors General."

"That is no longer the case with regard to this Inspector General," the letter said.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., and Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said Saturday that they're launching an investigation of Linick's removal. They asked the Trump administration to turn over records and other details related to the firing by Friday.

In a statement Monday, Engel said that he has learned there might have been another reason for 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. "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. The administration should comply with the probe I launched with Senator Menendez and turn over all the records requested from the Department by Friday."

Linick's removal drew criticism from Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, a co-chair of the Whistleblower Protection Caucus, who said Congress needs written reasons justifying a removal. "A general lack of confidence is simply not sufficient," he said.

Grassley sent a letter to Trump on Monday expressing his concerns. Calling inspectors general "the ultimate swamp drainers, he wrote, "Removal of IGs without explanation could create a chilling effect in the oversight community, and risks decreasing the quantity, quality, fidelity, and veracity of their reports."

"As you work toward filling IG roles, it is absolutely imperative than any acting leadership do not create obvious conflicts that unduly threaten the statutorily required independence of inspectors general," Grassley added.

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.

Haley Talbot, Tim Stelloh and Abigail Williams contributed.