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Pompeo says sacking of investigator was not related to Saudi arms deal probe

Secretary of State said he was unaware Inspector General Steve Linick had been conducting any investigations into his conduct
'It's simply not possible for this to be an act of retaliation,' Pompeo said of the termination (AFP/File photo)

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has denied allegations that he fired an internal investigator at the State Department in "retaliation" for probing both arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the top US diplomat's use of a staffer.

Speaking to the Washington Post on Monday, Pompeo said the dismissal of Inspector General (IG) Steve Linick had nothing to do with the arms deal, but rather Linick's "undermining" of the State Department's mission. 

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He did not elaborate on specific details regarding the ousting but confirmed that he had been the official to recommend Linick's termination to President Donald Trump. Pompeo said he did not have to justify the move.

"Just like every presidentially confirmed position, I can terminate them. They serve at his pleasure for any reason or no reason," he told the Post.

Pompeo said he was unaware that Linick had been conducting any investigations into his conduct, therefore "it's simply not possible for this to be an act of retaliation. End of story". 

Probe into emergency arms sale

Initial reports on Friday suggested Linick had been fired for looking into accounts that Pompeo was sending staff to run personal errands. But on Monday, the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Eliot Engel raised concerns over the IG's investigation into the Trump administration's emergency weapons sales to Saudi Arabia last year.

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The arms transfer had been blocked by a bipartisan majority of lawmakers, who opposed the Saudi-led coalition's killing of civilians in Yemen. But in May 2019, Pompeo declared that there was a state of emergency with Iran, which paved the way for Trump to sign a unilateral emergency 0rder to approve the $8bn sale to Saudi Arabia and the UAE without congressional approval.

"I have learned that there may be another reason for Mr. Linick's firing," Engel said. "His office was investigating - at my request - Trump's phony declaration of an emergency so he could send weapons to Saudi Arabia."

The probe into the arms sales was ordered by Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee in June 2019. 

Leaks at State Department

In defence of Pompeo, Brian Bulatao, the State Department's undersecretary for management, also denied such allegations. Bulatao told the Post that concern over Linick had grown because of a "pattern of unauthorised disclosures, or leaks", to the news media about incomplete investigations. 

Bulatao said concern was heightened last fall after media reports about a government probe cited "two government sources involved in carrying out the investigation".

"You know the IG is normally charged with carrying out the investigation," he said. "It certainly was a very strong finger-pointing at IG Linick's way."

President Trump has also dismissed the allegations levied against Pompeo. 

Trump officiated Linick's abrupt dismissal in a letter to Congress late on Friday, informing lawmakers that the IG would be given 30 days to wrap up his investigation. But Linick has since been barred from entering the State Department even to collect his belongings, the Post said.