Donald Trump didn’t exactly leave Mike Pompeo much room for cover on the firing of the State Department’s inspector general, but Pompeo apparently doesn’t want cover anyway. At this morning’s presser, Pompeo declared that Steve Linick should have been fired “some time ago,” and confirmed that he initiated Trump’s action. Pompeo also denied that this was in retaliation for any current investigation because he had no knowledge of what Linick was doing.
“I don’t leak to y’all,” Pompeo declared, but instead fingered Sen. Bob Menendez as a leaker:
NEW: Sec. Mike Pompeo says he recommended the State Dept. inspector general be fired “and frankly should have done it some time ago.”
— ABC News (@ABC) May 20, 2020
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended his push to have his department’s inspector general fired, saying he “should have done it some time ago,” but refused to explain his reasoning for recommending President Donald Trump remove Steve Linick from his job.
“The President has the unilateral right to choose who he wants to be his inspector general at every agency in the federal government,” Pompeo said in remarks to reporters Wednesday at the State Department. “They are presidentially confirmed positions, and those persons just like all of us serve at the pleasure of the President of the United States. In this case, I recommended to the President that Steve Linick be terminated. I frankly should have done it some time ago.”
Pompeo told reporters that he couldn’t have retaliated against Linick, but that he also can’t reveal why Pompeo asked for his termination. “Unlike others,” Pompeo said, “I don’t talk about personnel matters. I don’t leak to y’all.” However, Pompeo noted that leaks coming from elsewhere within State offered increasingly “crazy” stories about his own behavior, all of which Pompeo denied:
[“]I’ll just say this, I can’t talk, I can’t give you specificity, we’ll share with the appropriate people the rationale,” he continued. “There should be no mistake…there are claims this was for retaliation, for some investigation that the Inspector General’s office here was engaged in. That’s patently false. I have no sense of what investigations were taking place inside the Inspector General’s office. I couldn’t possibly have retaliated for all the things. I’ve seen the various stories, like, someone was walking my dog to sell arms to my dry cleaner. It’s all just crazy. It’s all crazy stuff. I didn’t have access to that information so I couldn’t possibly have retaliated. It would have been impossible.”
“There’s one exception. I was asked a series of questions in writing. I responded to those questions with respect to a particular investigation. That was sometime earlier this year as best I can recall. I responded to those questions. I don’t know the scope, I don’t know the nature of that investigation,” he continued.
Pompeo accused Menendez of stoking a controversy over a routine dismissal of an IG, and pointedly said Menendez has no room to serve as an ethics judge:
“Here’s the last thing to think about as you see these stories that have been leaked to you all, to the press. 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,” Pompeo said. “A man for whom his Senate colleagues, bipartisan, said basically that he was taking bribes. That’s not someone I look to for ethics guidance so I will continue to do the right thing and make sure the State Department is served by every employee, including our inspector general and we’ll make sure the State Department continues to deliver on behalf of the American people.”
Well, that should make for a merry little war within the Beltway. Did anyone out Menendez as a source for these stories before now, or did Pompeo have sources of his own? Senate Democrats might want some answers to that question while asking for information on Linick’s firing.
That, however, is more routine than the current media kerfuffle indicates. Remember when Barack Obama fired Gerald Walpin after the AmeriCorps IG took a keen interest in potential corrupt use of funds by Obama ally Kevin Johnson? The White House used the exact same justification, “lack of confidence,” and tried to spread around rumors that Walpin was going senile. Walpin shot back that he was no more senile than Obama after his reference to “57 states.” The national media barely covered that firing, but in fairness, conservative media followed it closely as an example of potential corruption in the Obama White House. (An FBI probe into alleged obstruction by Johnson helped that along, though.)
Politico suggests that a donor connection might be in play here too, but that it wasn’t the focus of a probe:
The now-fired State Department inspector general had recently wrapped up an investigation into another top aide to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, determining that she had likely failed to report allegations of workplace violence, a person familiar with the issue told POLITICO.
The probe into Cam Henderson, who leads the department’s Office of Protocol, could have been another factor in what Pompeo and his deputies have described as mounting frustration with the inspector general, Steve Linick, and might have contributed to Pompeo’s push to oust him.
The Pompeos worked closely with the Office of Protocol on a series of intimate, hush-hush dinners that featured influential conservatives, administration officials and Wall Street financiers in what some critics have viewed as the improper use of taxpayer dollars.
“Some critics” might view it that way, but it’s a weird way to frame a report into a workplace-violence investigation. Too bad the mainstream media wasn’t as interested in donor connections to IG firings eleven years ago.
According to Walpin, the chairman of the board of the Corporation for National and Community Service, Alan Solomont, was a major Democratic fundraiser and was unhappy with his reports pointing out the misuse of federal money. Johnson was also said to be close to the Obamas, and shortly afterward the president abruptly fired Walpin from his job. The firing set off a flurry of inquiries from a bipartisan group of senators concerned that Walpin’s firing had been been politically motivated. There were also allegations that the U.S. attorney in Sacramento, Lawrence Brown, filed an ethics complaint against Walpin to help lift a ban on Johnson receiving federal funds as well as curry favor with the White House. Brown was seeking a presidential appointment to become United States attorney for the Eastern District of California.
Now Johnson remains mired in scandal six years later and is being accused of allegations of corruption very similar to what was first alleged by Walpin. And in the intervening years, the Obama administration has acquired quite the reputation for selectively enforcing laws against compromised allies and for the vigorous prosecution of political enemies on dubious grounds. Johnson’s current troubles certainly suggest that the president was wrong to fire Walpin, and are an unpleasant reminder of the Chicago-style politics that have come to define this administration’s questionable uses of political power.