A senior Trump administration official on Wednesday rolled out some new after-the-fact justifications for the firing of Steve Linick, the former State Department inspector general who was investigating an emergency arms sale to Saudi Arabia at the time of his dismissal.
Brian Bulatao, the department’s undersecretary for management and a witness before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday, told The Washington Post in May that concern had grown over Linick because of a “pattern of unauthorized disclosures, or leaks.” Bulato said Wednesday he didn’t recall that interview.
But in addition to airing his concerns over Linick’s response to leaks from his office, Bulatao on Wednesday also put forward some novel justifications for the firing. A number of reporters noted that his stated reasons for Linick’s firing were new, four months after the fact.
Among the variety of reasons Bulatao listed Wednesday: Linick’s office was late in completing an audit of the State Department’s financial statements for fiscal year 2019. Linick also oversaw a decrease in completed inspections at overseas State Department posts, Bulatao said. He additionally cited low morale as reflected in survey responses from Office of Inspector General employees.
“We’ve got a problem, and it starts with leadership,” Bulato said.
Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), a CPA who reminded the hearing room that he was the only professional auditor present, seemed amused by the suggestion that Linick was fired for a late audit or low employee morale, calling them “rather easily dismissed ideas.”
“I assure you that was not the reason,” he said. “If you look at the Department of Defense and other departments, the State Department being a few weeks late with its audit report is tiny compared to other agencies and their late or non-existent audit reports.”
But if being late with reports is fireable, Sherman said, Bulatao should step down for the State Department’s “chronically late” reports on “matters of life and death.”
Responding to the claim of low morale in the Office of Inspector General, Sherman referred to the morale at the State Department in general.
“If low morale is reason for someone to be fired, look up, not down,” he said, referring to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Linick himself said in testimony this past June that he wasn’t given a reason for his firing. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said he suggested that President Donald Trunmp dismiss Linick because he wasn’t “additive for the State Department.”
Linick also testified in June that Bulatao bullied him and tried to convince him not to investigate the Saudi arms sales; the investigation, completed after Linick’s departure, ultimately showed that Pompeo decided weeks ahead of time to use his emergency powers to approve the arms sales without congressional approval.
Bulatao on Wednesday denied bullying Linick.
“If asking questions is bullying, then– there’s no bullying going on,” he said.