Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday confirmed he asked President Donald Trump to fire the State Department inspector general but insisted it wasn’t done in retaliation.
“Let’s be clear: there are claims this was for retaliation for some investigation that the inspector general’s office here was engaged in. That’s patently false. I have no sense what investigations were taking place inside the inspector general’s office,” Pompeo told reporters in Washington.
Trump late Friday informed Congress he was firing Steve Linick, the inspector general, telling lawmakers that he lacked enough confidence in Linick to keep him in the position.
Trump later said Pompeo recommended the firing.
“I recommended to the president that Steve Linick be terminated. Frankly, should have done it some time ago,” Pompeo said Wednesday.
He refused to disclose the rationale for his recommendations, saying he doesn’t discuss personnel matters with the press. The reasoning will be shared with “the appropriate people,” Pompeo said.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have asked for more detailed rationale than what was described in Trump’s letter.
“Congress requires written reasons justifying an IG’s removal. A general lack of confidence simply is not sufficient detail to satisfy Congress,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said in a recent statement.
House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) are investigating the firing, alleging it may have been linked to a probe Linick was conducting over arm sales to Saudi Arabia.
Pompeo accused Menendez’s office of leaking false stories about the motivation for the firing, which have included anonymously sourced reports alleging Linick was probing whether Pompeo ordered staff to pick up dry cleaning and walk his dog.
“This is all coming through the office of Senator Menendez. I don’t get my ethics guidance from a man who was criminally prosecuted. … A man for whom his Senate colleagues, bipartisan, said, basically, that he was taking bribes,” Pompeo said.
Menendez and a friend were charged in 2015 with conspiracy, bribery, and fraud. The senator allegedly helped the friend, a doctor, in exchange for political contributions and gifts.
The trial ended in 2017 in a mistrial and the Department of Justice decided not to pursue a retrial. The Senate Ethics Committee officially admonished Menendez the next year.
Menendez in a statement said Pompeo “is now trying diversion tactics by attempting to smear me.”
The timing of the firing ” reeks to the high heavens that obviously what he was investigating was problematic for the Secretary of State,” Menendez added during an appearance on CNN earlier Wednesday.
The firing “is an assault on the checks [and balances] over the agencies of the federal government and that’s why we need to investigate it,” he said.
Mimi Nguyen Ly, Janita Kan, and Tom Ozimek contributed to this report.