Inspector general's firing puts Pompeo's use of taxpayer funds under scrutiny
WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo swatted away questions about his use of government resources again and again last year.
In January, news reports cited unnamed diplomats complaining about his wife, Susan Pompeo, traveling with him across the Middle East during a partial government shutdown.
In the summer, members of Congress began examining a whistleblower complaint accusing him of asking diplomatic security agents to run errands like picking up restaurant takeout meals and retrieving the family dog, Sherman, from a groomer.
And in October, a Democratic senator called for a special counsel to investigate his use of State Department aircraft and funds for frequent visits to Kansas, where he was reported to be considering a Senate run.
In each case, Pompeo or other department officials denied wrongdoing, and the secretary moved on unscathed.
But his record is now coming under fresh scrutiny after President Donald Trump told Congress on Friday night that he was firing the State Department inspector general — at Pompeo’s private urging, a White House official said.
The inspector general, Steve Linick, who leads hundreds of employees in investigating fraud and waste at the State Department, had begun an inquiry into Pompeo’s possible misuse of a political appointee to perform personal tasks for him and his wife, according to Democratic aides. That included walking the dog, picking up dry cleaning and making restaurant reservations, one said — an echo of the whistleblower complaint from last year.
The details of Linick’s investigation are not clear, and it may be unrelated to the previous allegations. But Democrats and other critics of Pompeo say the cloud of accusations shows a pattern of misuse of taxpayer money — one that may mean lawmakers will be less willing to give the administration the benefit of the doubt as congressional Democrats begin an investigation into Linick’s dismissal.
The investigation is aimed at determining whether the act was one of illegal retaliation intended to shield Pompeo from accountability — which “would undermine the foundation of our democratic institutions,” Rep. Eliot Engel of New York and Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, leading Democrats on foreign policy committees, said in a joint statement.
Linick is the fourth inspector general to fall in a purge this spring by Trump of officials he has deemed insufficiently loyal, but the dismissal is the first to prompt a formal inquiry in Congress, and it has also drawn criticism from a few Republicans.
Aides to Pompeo did not reply to repeated requests for comment. The White House did not respond to questions about whether it knew of Linick’s investigation into Pompeo when it moved to dismiss him.
Linick’s office has not commented on that inquiry or on Trump’s announcement, which started a 30-day clock on the inspector general’s departure.
Employees under Linick generally view him as competent and nonpartisan. Linick began his current job in 2013, and he held senior posts in the Justice Department starting in the administration of President George W. Bush. Linick played a minor role during the impeachment hearings last fall.
Since Pompeo took up his current post in April 2018, and for more than one year before that as the CIA director, he has been peerless in his navigation of Trump’s inner world of loyal advisers and domestic politics around foreign policy. While sticking close to Trump, he has weathered the impeachment process involving Ukraine, questions over the decision to kill a top Iranian general and the fraught diplomacy between the president and Kim Jong Un, the unpredictable leader of North Korea.