Fired State IG Linick Describes Struggle To Retain Independence

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 02: U.S. State Department Inspector General Steve Linick departs the U.S. Capitol October 02, 2019 in Washington, DC. Linick reportedly met with congressional officials to brief them on info... WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 02: U.S. State Department Inspector General Steve Linick departs the U.S. Capitol October 02, 2019 in Washington, DC. Linick reportedly met with congressional officials to brief them on information related to the impeachment inquiry centered around U.S. President Donald Trump. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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June 10, 2020 11:00 a.m.

In a 253-page transcript released by the House Foreign Affairs Committee Wednesday, fired State Department Inspector General Steve Linick painted a picture of a department ignorant of and hostile to the idea of an inspector general’s independence. 

Linick was fired abruptly by President Donald Trump on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recommendation, and has said that he was given no justifiable reason why. He had been conducting multiple probes that touched on Pompeo’s actions and use of department resources, though the Secretary has insisted that the firing was not retaliatory.

Here are some of the most illuminating episodes.

Linick says that top official who “bullied” him had little grasp of an IG’s independence.

Linick described Brian Bulatao, Under Secretary of State for Management and close friend of Pompeo, as lacking an understanding of what an inspector general’s role is. Linick gave several examples of Bulatao expecting him to act as a partisan, political player. The tension between the two men culminated in Bulatao trying to wave Linick off an investigation into an emergency declaration issued by Trump to clear the way for Pompeo’s Saudi arms deal. 

“Sometimes I felt he was unfamiliar with the role of inspectors general,” Linick said. 

In one example, he said that during a meeting with Bulatao in 2019, the Under Secretary asked him if he’d be leaving the department at the end of the administration. When Linick explained that inspectors general are nonpartisan and generally serve under multiple administrations, “he seemed surprised.” 

In another instance, Linick said that Bulatao asked him to help design the department’s response to the COVID-19 epidemic. “I did advise him that that wouldn’t be appropriate for me to do that because we may be auditing the Department’s efforts to address COVID-19,” Linick recalled. 

And when it came to the investigation into the emergency declaration that paved the way for the Saudi arms deal, Linick said that Bulatao told him it “wasn’t an appropriate review because it was a review of policy.” Linick explained that implementation of policy is squarely in the IG’s purview, though Bulatao continued to push back. Linick added that he carried out the probe due to congressional requests. 

In another episode, when a Daily Beast report was published that included leaked information, Linick said that both Pompeo and Bulatao were very upset and suspected that the leaks might have come from the IG’s office. Linick recalled the difficulty he had in impressing upon Bulatao that the leak investigation should be either an internal review or conducted by another IG — not, as Bulatao insisted, from the Department’s internal affairs group or the Council for Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency.

Bulatao, shaping up as a key player in Linick’s ouster, was also one of the two who called Linick to inform him of his firing. Linick said that he was “completely taken by surprise” and that Bulatao would not provide him with any rationale more detailed than that the President had decided to remove him. 

Linick responded to Pompeo’s criticism that he was out of line with the department’s mission.

And actually, Linick agreed with him, in a way. He recalled that when a new draft of the State Department mission statement was circulated around the various offices, he was immediately uncomfortable.

“I had told someone in my office to call or to reach out to the person who sent that and indicate that, you know, we were not — you know, we were independent and that the IG, you know, had a different mission and that it might be inappropriate for us to promote the Department’s agenda and mission given that we oversee them,” he said. 

He added that he never heard back after reaching out, and was unaware that anyone was unhappy with his response. 

Linick confirmed the existence of multiple, previously unreported probes.

Linick said that his office was working on multiple reviews — in addition to the Saudi arms deal and possible misuse of department resources by Pompeo and his wife — that “involve the Office of the Secretary in some way.” 

“So we were doing an audit of Special Immigrant Visas,” he said. “We were doing an ongoing review involving the International Women of Courage Award. We were doing an ongoing review involving individuals in the Office of Protocol.” 

He added that he was “not at liberty” to discuss those reviews in detail, though the last may pertain to the swanky dinners the Pompeos held for members of the Republican glitterati in State Department rooms.

Pompeo, when asked about the transcript later on Wednesday, said that he hadn’t read it but that Linick was a “bad actor in the inspector general office.”

“My mistake was letting Mr. Linick stay here as long as he did,” he added.

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