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Pompeo denies impropriety in firing of State Dept. watchdog

WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his top deputy are rejecting allegations that the State Department’s independent watchdog was fired for investigating alleged impropriety by Pompeo and his wife.

In separate letters sent to Congress late Thursday, Pompeo and Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun denied suggestions that Pompeo was aware of any such probe by ousted inspector general Steve Linick or his office.

Pompeo also denied that Linick was removed for no cause, accusing him of “strange and erratic behavior” and failing to do his job over many months. Pompeo also said Under Secretary of State for Management Brian Bulatao is willing to testify to the House Foreign Affairs Committee about the circumstances of Linick’s ouster on June 22 or 23.

“I need an inspector general working every day to improve State Department operations and efficiency,” Pompeo wrote in one letter to committee chairman Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y. “Mr. Linick was not that person.”

Pompeo also took a political shot at Engel, who is facing a difficult Democratic primary in his home district. “I hear you've been busy in your district, so let me get you up to speed on what's been happening in your committee,” he wrote, with a footnote referring to a news report that said Engel is “fighting for his political survival.”

Engel responded by saying he was “puzzled why Secretary Pompeo’s letter includes so many errors, but I’m glad that the department is moving toward what the committees requested weeks ago: allowing Mr. Bulatao to speak on the record about the firing of Inspector General Linick.”

He added, “We look forward to hearing from Mr. Bulatao and all the other witnesses involved in this fiasco.” Pompeo has said President Donald Trump fired Linick at his recommendation, and Democrats have suggested his ouster was personally and politically motivated. Pompeo adamantly denied that and called Engel's suggestions that he wanted Linick fired to cover up impropriety a “nasty insinuation” aimed at “misleading” the American people.

“Because I had no knowledge of this alleged work by the inspector general at the time I recommended to the president that Mr. Linick be removed, it is not possible that Mr. Linick's work on this matter could have provided a retaliatory motivation for my recommendation," Pompeo wrote.

The letters were sent to Engel and obtained by The Associated Press a day after congressional Democrats released a transcript of an interview with Linick last week and demanded answers to allegations he made.

The letters — two from Pompeo and one from Biegun — were accompanied by a four-page compilation of numerous Linick quotes from the transcript entitled “Three Things Democrats Won't Tell You About Linick's Testimony” and annotated with refutations of specific points.

Among other things, Linick testified that he had sought information from Biegun, Bulatao and several other top Pompeo aides about allegations that Pompeo and his wife improperly used government staff to run personal errands. Although did not say he knew that Pompeo had been alerted to the probe, several lawmakers, including Engel, concluded it would be difficult to believe that he had not been.

In his letter to Engel, however, Biegun said neither he nor anyone else relayed any information about what he termed Linick's “purported” requests to Pompeo. The committee “wrongly concluded, without any evidence or corroboration, that Secretary Pompeo must have been aware of the inspector general's work on this matter at the time that he recommended he be removed from his position," Biegun wrote. “This conclusion is entirely false.”

Linick, who had been inspector general since 2013, also said he was looking into allegations that Pompeo and his wife may have misused government staff to run personal errands and several other matters. Trump abruptly fired him late on May 15 with what Linick said was no warning or cited cause.

Pompeo has said he was aware that Linick had opened a review of last year’s $8 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia, which Pompeo had circumvented congressional objections to approve. Linick testified that Bulatao and legal adviser Marik String had tried to discourage him from investigating the sale, saying it was an inappropriate review of policy and not policy implementation.

Pompeo, Bulatao and others have said Linick was dismissed in part because of inappropriate actions but also because of the alleged leak of one of his office’s reports into accusations of political reprisals by Trump appointees against career State Department officials.

Linick denied his office was responsible for the leak. He said an investigation into the alleged leak by the Defense Department inspector general cleared him and his office.

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