WASHINGTON - House Democrats on Wednesday detailed their suspicions that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and a small group of loyalists orchestrated the spring firing of the agency's inspector general, as he was investigating Pompeo's personal conduct, and then attempted a cover-up.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing with three top State Department officials close to Pompeo, including Undersecretary for Management Brian Bulatao, was months in the making.
"We should have been able to do this a few months ago and not with the acrimony that we've experienced," said Chairman Eliot L. Engel, who lost the Democratic primary for his New York district this summer. Extracting information from a seemingly recalcitrant State Department "has not been the most pleasant way to bring my three-decade career to a close," he added.
President Donald Trump fired the inspector general, Steve Linick, in May at the direct request of Pompeo, who has repeatedly claimed he did not know then that Linick was investigating him and his wife, Susan, for alleged misuse of department resources.
Pompeo, who previously served as CIA director, was aware, however, that Linick was examining the secretary's spring 2019 emergency declaration on Iran, which allowed him to bypass mandatory congressional review of billions of dollars in proposed weapon sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Democrats had been holding up the $8 billion weapons package over concerns those arms would contribute to further death and devastation in Yemen.
The IG report, released last month, into Pompeo's emergency declaration concluded the department had failed to fully assess or mitigate the risk to civilian lives of the arm sales.
At the time of Linick's firing, Bulatao, a longtime personal friend of Pompeo, in an interview with The Washington Post accused Linick of a lax investigation into a news leak late last year involving a draft IG report critical of Trump's special envoy for Iran matters, Brian Hook. Hook was found to have illegally discriminated against a career employee because of her Iranian American background.
Rather than take corrective actions against Hook, who has yet to be punished, Pompeo and Bulatao focused their attentions on the Office of the Inspector General, which they suspected leaked the information.
Engel, however, was dubious.
"Did Mr. Pompeo fire his agency's independent watchdog because of the way he handled the investigation into unproven allegations of a leak in the OIG?" the chairman asked. "Or did Mr. Pompeo fire him because he was getting closer and closer to matters that were embarrassing for Mr. Pompeo and his family, matters that implicated the State Department in a scheme to bypass Congress and sell lethal weapons that might be used for war crimes?"