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Pompeo says he didn’t know fired IG was investigating him

State Department Inspector General Steve Linick was actively investigating Sec. of State Mike Pompeo when he was fired by President Trump recently. It was the latest in a series of IG dismissals sending shockwaves through the watchdog community. On Wednesday, Pompeo answered questions about the move, denying he knew Linick was investigating him. Nick Schifrin joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And another top story today: the firing of the State Department inspector general, Steve Linick, who had an active investigation ongoing of the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo.

    The secretary answered reporters' questions today.

    And our foreign affairs correspondent, Nick Schifrin, joins me now.

    So, Nick, what did Secretary Pompeo have to say?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Pompeo denied everything the reporters asked him related to Steve Linick, and he actually joked that he should have fired Steve Linick in the past.

    Senior officials who are politically appointed around Pompeo have told me that they consider Linick a bit of a partisan hack, in their words. And Pompeo today tried to turn the tables, instead pointing the finger at the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who is trying to investigate why Pompeo fired Linick.

  • Secretary Mike Pompeo:

    This is all coming through the office of Senator Menendez.

    I don't get my ethics guidance from a man who was criminally prosecuted, case number 15-155, New Jersey Federal District Court.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Now, for the record, it is not only Menendez who is investigating the firing. It is also House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel and other Democrats.

    But Menendez did respond to Pompeo, Judy, in a statement accusing him of firing Linick, as Linick, as you said, was investigating Pompeo, and said the secretary was — quote — "using diversion tactics by attempting to smear me."

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Nick, as Senator Menendez mentions, Linick investigating Pompeo, what do we know he was investigating? What do we know about that?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    So, congressional officials tell me that Linick was investigating personal matters related to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife, Susan, whether they had improperly used either political appointees or even diplomatic security officials to basically run errands for them.

    And an official said that there's been an undercurrent of those accusations the last few years.

    And I should say, Judy, I have spoken to former CIA officials while Pompeo was director of CIA, and they said they heard some of the same things.

    Now, today, Pompeo said he didn't know whether the investigation into the personal matters existed, but, at the same time, denied the underlying substance behind them.

  • Secretary Mike Pompeo:

    I have no sense of what investigations were taking place inside the inspector general's office. Couldn't possibly have retaliated for all the things.

    I have seen the various stories that someone was walking my dog to sell arms to my dry cleaner. I mean, it's all just crazy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Nick, there is another question out there. And that is whether the inspector general Linick was also looking into U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes, Judy, this is about the war in Yemen.

    Some 100,000 people died in that war, and it's being fought by a coalition led by Saudi Arabia against an Iran-backed Houthi rebel in Yemen. And those Saudis are armed by U.S. weapons authorized by U.S. officials.

    Now, those sales were at first blocked by a Republican senator and then by Menendez. But they restarted when the administration declared an emergency, that they had to get those arms sales.

    And, last summer, Engel and other Democrats called for an investigation into that emergency by Steve Linick, the I.G. They pointed out, why did you need to call an emergency if the arms weren't actually going to get there for two years?

    And, today, we heard from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who brought up that accusation.

  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.:

    They declared a fake emergency in order to initiate the sales, and then — and that may have been part of the investigation. That's what I'm very concerned about.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    We know that Linick was investigating that declared emergency.

    Pompeo declined to be interviewed as part of that investigation, but he did answer written questions about it. And one official says that senior State Department officials have been briefed about that investigation, Judy, but we just don't know what the results were.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Nick, just one more piece of context here.

    We know that Steve Linick was the fourth inspector general in the Trump administration to be removed just in the last six weeks.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes, this is part of an argument that President Trump has made against these inspector generals.

    He was asked about Steve Linick on Monday, and he indicated he did not care what Linick had been investigating, only that Linick was appointed by Obama and that Pompeo wanted him gone.

  • President Donald Trump:

    I said, who appointed him? And they said, President Obama. I said, look, I will terminate him. I don't know what's going on other than that, but you would have to ask Mike Pompeo.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Judy, the irony is that congressional officials and officials inside the inspector general community tell me that Linick entered the I.G. world through a Republican, Senator Richard Grassley, and that his first high-profile investigation was into Hillary Clinton's e-mail server.

    They also tell me that Linick wasn't particularly aggressive against the Trump administration, nor, for that matter, were any of the inspector general's that Trump has relieved in the last few weeks.

    Republican and Democratic officials are trying to figure out whether they can create some kind of for-cause removal in order to protect an inspector general. But these officials who I'm talking to Judy saying this is a five-alarm fire inside the inspector general community.

    Current inspector generals are scared, the mood is negative. And the idea that inspector generals are there to speak truth to power, that's being eroded.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So important to report on this. And I know the reporting will continue.

    Nick Schifrin, thank you very much.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Thank you.

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