House Democrats have issued subpoenas to four State Department officials, calling on them to testify as part of an investigation into the firing of a government watchdog.
The officials, senior aides to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have been requested to appear for joint depositions by Democrats on the House Committees on Foreign Affairs and Oversight and Reform, an Aug. 3 release said. The move comes amid allegations that the Trump administration has been stonewalling the Democrat-led probe into the firing of former State Department Inspector General Steve Linick by President Donald Trump.
Trump said he fired Linick after losing confidence in him, while Pompeo later clarified he had asked the president to fire the watchdog because he was not contributing to the State Department the way he was instructed.
“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,” a joint statement from House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), House Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) reads.
“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,” the bicameral group added.
The four aides targeted by the subpoenas are Undersecretary of State for Management Brian Bulatao, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Mike Miller, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Marik String, and senior adviser Toni Porter.
In Capitol Hill testimony in early June (pdf), Linick accused Bulatao of trying to bully him into dropping a probe the watchdog had launched into Pompeo’s stewardship of Saudi Arabian arms sales.
Pompeo has accused the former watchdog of undermining the State Department, saying Linick was “a bad actor in the inspector general office here,” adding that it was his “mistake” to let Linick serve in his post as long as he did.
In his testimony, Linick refuted justifications for his firing but would not speculate on why he was fired, saying, “I can tell you that I don’t believe there’s any valid reason that would justify my removal.”
The subpoenas come after the Committees’ ranking members vowed to interview key officials they believe have knowledge about Linick’s dismissal and how the watchdog’s investigations may have prompted Pompeo to have him fired.
“Congress has demanded answers about the abrupt firing of the Inspector General, but Secretary Pompeo has failed to explain his actions. We call upon administration officials to comply and appear for interviews with the Committees, and for Secretary Pompeo to comply with the Committees’ investigation and not obstruct the American people from discovering the truth about his own actions,” members of the bicameral group said in a May 29 statement.
In Monday’s statement announcing the subpoenas, the lawmakers said a senior State Department official, Charles Faulkner, had testified voluntarily.
“Mr. Faulkner testified that Congress had ‘legitimate’ concerns when it was holding up these sales on humanitarian grounds and that State Department officials weren’t surprised by the Saudis’ reckless use of U.S.-built weapons and the resulting loss of innocent life. Nevertheless, the Department’s senior leadership appeared determined to see the sales go forward,” the Democrat lawmakers said in their statement.
The sale of arms to Saudi Arabia was made possible by Pompeo’s invoking, in May 2019, of a rarely used provision in federal law to bypass a congressional review.
A number of congressional Democrats objected when Pompeo last year notified Congress of the decision to use an emergency loophole in the Arms Export Control Act to proceed with the arms sales, which included precision-guided munitions, along with other bombs and ammunition.
Some 26 members of Congress wrote a letter to Linick, urging him to review the matter, saying there were “dubious grounds” for invoking the emergency.