This piece is part of our weekly Prime series on corruption and the Trump Swamp, but it has been moved outside of the paywall while we cover COVID-19.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in the hot seat this week, and boy has he earned it.
On Friday, the President — at Pompeo’s suggestion — fired the top government watchdog at the State Department. Steve Linick joins the swelling ranks of inspectors general summarily dismissed without much of an explanation.
“I went to the President and made clear to him that Inspector General Linick wasn’t performing a function in a way that we had tried to get him to,” Pompeo said of Linick’s firing, which didn’t help the secretary’s case.
Within hours of the dismissal, the news got worse for Pompeo: House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Eliot Engel (D-NY) said he’d learned that Linick had opened an investigation into Pompeo, suggesting the dismissal was retaliatory and done in self-preservation.
Pompeo denied knowledge of any such investigation, but pretty soon after that, the New York Times reported that he had to have been aware of at least one — Pompeo declined to be interviewed for the investigation, the Times reported, and instead opted to answer written questions from Linick’s office.
The subject of that investigation is, aside from Linick’s firing itself, perhaps the most damaging news of the week for Pompeo: It concerns the “emergency” powers he used last year to shepherd $8 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates without the standard congressional review.
Engel told TPM that this “may be another reason for Mr. Linick’s firing,” and unnamed senior officials told Politico that Pompeo disregarded their advice when he invoked the waiver for the arms sales.
Though Pompeo cited “Iranian malign activity” in announcing the emergency waiver a year ago, an unnamed former official told Politico that there was “nothing going on” in Iran that marked a change from the month prior to the use of emergency powers.
The arms sales were fishy at the time — Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) commented on Pompeo’s move, “there is no new emergency reason to sell bombs to Saudi Arabia to drop in Yemen” — but having Linick fired as he investigated them is downright stinky.
Linick’s other ongoing investigations are, reportedly, a little bit more fun.
Multiple outlets reported, for example, that Linick was investigating whether Pompeo had ordered a political employee to run errands for him, including cooking dinner, walking the dog and picking up dry cleaning. Quite a call back to Scott Pruitt! Kate Riga has a more comprehensive rundown here.
But the pièce de résistance of Pompeo’s swampiness came in an NBC News profile of his “Madison dinners,” in which the secretary of State reportedly wooed future donors to his potential Senate campaign with taxpayer-funded soirées at the department. It simply must be read to be believed.
House Democrats want answers, but it’s long been clear the administration could care less about their oversight efforts.
Meanwhile, the State Department’s director of the Office of Foreign Missions, Stephen Akard, is keeping that job while filling in as the new inspector general — meaning that he’ll be overseeing it himself.
Prior to joining the State Department, Akard served as chief of staff at the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, The Washington Post’s Josh Rogin noted — under then-Gov. Mike Pence.
Here’s what else we were watching this week:
- Trump just removed the IG investigating Elaine Chao. Chao’s husband, Mitch McConnell, already vetted the replacement.
- Trump’s preferred construction firm lands $1.3 billion border wall contract, the biggest so far
- Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin unveils a prepaid debit card with Trump’s name on it
- The ex-pharma exec leading Trump’s COVID-19 vaccine program has $10 million in stock options for a company getting federal funding
- USDA knocked for ‘unfathomable’ $39M contract awarded to San Antonio event planner