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May 18, 2020
News | US Politics: Inspector General’s Firing Puts Pompeo’s Use of Taxpayer Funds Under Scrutiny
of improperly using government resources have trailed the secretary of
state, but President Trump’s move to fire the State Department inspector
general has handed Democrats a new weapon.
— 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, traveling
with him across the Middle East during a partial government shutdown.
In the summer, members of Congress began examining a whistle-blower complaint
accusing Mr. Pompeo 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
In each case, Mr. Pompeo or other
department officials denied wrongdoing, and the secretary moved on
unscathed. But his record is now coming under fresh scrutiny after
President Trump told Congress on Friday night that he was firing the
State Department inspector general — at Mr. Pompeo’s private urging, a White House official said.
The inspector general, Steve A. Linick,
who leads hundreds of employees in investigating fraud and waste at the
State Department, had begun an inquiry into Mr. 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 whistle-blower complaint from last year.
details of Mr. Linick’s investigation are not clear, and it may be
unrelated to the previous allegations. But Democrats and other critics
of Mr. Pompeo say the cloud of accusations shows a pattern of abuse 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 Mr. Linick’s dismissal.
investigation is aimed at determining whether the act was one of
illegal retaliation intended to shield Mr. Pompeo from accountability —
which “would undermine the foundation of our democratic institutions,”
Representative Eliot L. Engel of New York and Senator Bob Menendez of
New Jersey, leading Democrats on foreign policy committees, said in a
Mr. Engel stressed on Sunday that Mr.
Pompeo must turn over all requested records, and said, “What I’ve
learned about Inspector General Stephen Linick’s removal is deeply
Linick is the fourth inspector general to fall in a purge this spring
by Mr. 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.
president has the right to fire any federal employee,” Speaker Nancy
Pelosi said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “But the fact is, if
it looks like it is in retaliation for something that the I.G., the
inspector general, is doing, that could be unlawful.”
called the move “unsavory” — “when you take out someone who is there to
stop waste, fraud, abuse or other violations of the law that they
believe to be happening.”
Aides to Mr. Pompeo did not
reply to repeated requests for comment. The White House did not respond
to questions about whether it knew of Mr. Linick’s investigation into
Mr. Pompeo when it moved to dismiss him.
office has not commented on that inquiry or on Mr. Trump’s announcement,
which started a 30-day clock on the inspector general’s departure.
Employees under Mr. Linick generally view him as competent and
nonpartisan. Mr. 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.
In May 2016, Mr. Linick
issued a report sharply criticizing Hillary Clinton, the former
secretary of state, for her use of a private email server, and last fall
he played a minor role during the impeachment hearings against Mr. Trump.
few Republican senators, notably Mitt Romney and Charles E. Grassley,
have expressed varying degrees of disapproval of Mr. Trump’s move. But
on Sunday, Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, said: “I
understand it. I don’t disagree with it.”
He told CNN
that he had spoken with White House and State Department officials about
the matter. “I’m not crying big crocodile tears over this termination,
let’s put it that way,” he said.
Since Mr. Pompeo took
up his current post in April 2018, and for more than one year before
that as the C.I.A. director, he has been peerless in his navigation of
Mr. Trump’s inner world of loyal advisers and domestic politics around
foreign policy. While sticking close to Mr. 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.
the maelstrom of questions that began over the weekend could present a
formidable challenge to Mr. Pompeo’s political instincts and career
ambitions. People close to him say he is thinking of running for
president in 2024. And more immediately, the Senate majority leader,
Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, has repeatedly urged him to run
for an open Senate seat in Kansas — an important race given that the
Republicans are at risk of losing control of the Senate in the November
Mr. Pompeo knows the potential effect of a
congressional investigation on a politician’s career: As a Republican
congressman, he helped lead the charge against Mrs. Clinton, then the secretary of state, over the deaths of four Americans at a mission in Benghazi, Libya, an issue that hounded her during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Mr. Pompeo, the spotlight now falls on much more personal matters,
including the role of his wife. Other secretaries of state have
occasionally traveled with spouses, but some officials in the State
Department say Mrs. Pompeo, a former bank executive, has played an
unusually active role in running meetings and accompanying her husband
on official business.
“She has this quasi-official role, where my friends are called to meetings she is leading at the department,” said Brett Bruen,
a former career diplomat and director of global engagement on President
Barack Obama’s National Security Council. “They know that’s not
supposed to happen, because she isn’t in their chain of command. But
what can they do?”
Mrs. Pompeo has accompanied Mr. Pompeo on several long trips overseas. In January 2019, she went with him on an eight-day journey across the Middle East — which raised questions
among some officials because most State Department employees, including
those supporting the trip, were working without pay during a partial
government shutdown. Mrs. Pompeo has also flown with her husband on
multinight trips to Switzerland and Italy, which included a visit to the secretary’s ancestral home region of Abruzzo.
Pompeo, who is not paid by the State Department, has met with embassy
families and local figures on some of the trips, and Mr. Pompeo has
called her a “force multiplier.”
Mrs. Pompeo also played an unusually prominent volunteer role
at the C.I.A. when Mr. Pompeo was the director there; she traveled with
her husband, used an office space in C.I.A. headquarters and asked
employees to assist her — actions that an agency spokesman defended at the time. Their son used a C.I.A. shooting range recreationally, according to CNN.
Pompeo’s frequent trips to Kansas last year also drew intense scrutiny.
He went four times, three on the auspices of official business and
flying in and out on State Department aircraft. To many, the trips
appeared to be part of a shadow Senate campaign
for 2020 and had little to do with foreign policy, despite Mr. Pompeo’s
denials and his refusal so far to agree to run for the seat.
On the last trip, in October, Mr. Pompeo took part in a student event with Ivanka Trump, Mr. Trump’s daughter. And he discussed the Senate race
with Charles Koch, the billionaire who is a longtime supporter of Mr.
Pompeo, and Dave Robertson, the president and chief operating officer of
Koch Industries, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The Kansas City Star ran a blistering editorial
denouncing Mr. Pompeo’s frequent trips to his adopted home state,
telling him he should quit and run for Senate or “by all means focus on
U.S. diplomacy — remember diplomacy? — and stop hanging out here every
chance he gets.”
Four days later, Mr. Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sent a letter
to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel asking it to investigate Mr.
Pompeo for potential violations of the Hatch Act, which bars federal
employees from using their official positions to engage in partisan
Separately, Democratic lawmakers
on a House committee last year began looking at a whistle-blower
complaint that Mr. Pompeo, his wife and adult son were asking diplomatic
security agents to run personal errands, including picking up Chinese
food and the family dog from a groomer. The whistle-blower said agents
had complained they were “UberEats with guns,” according to CNN, which first reported on the accusations.
Fairchild, the agent in charge of the Diplomatic Security Service, told
CNN that he had seen no wrongdoing. The Democratic lawmakers did not
open a formal inquiry.
More broadly, Mr. Pompeo has
wrestled with managing the State Department, though he was initially
hailed by many employees as a welcome change from Rex W. Tillerson, Mr.
Trump’s first secretary of state, who was perceived as aloof and
Last fall, current and former State Department officials criticized Mr. Pompeo for not vocally defending diplomats who were testifying in the impeachment inquiry and coming under attack from Mr. Trump, and for his own role in the earlier ouster of Marie L. Yovanovitch, a respected career diplomat, from the ambassadorship to Ukraine.
Since the winter, Mr. Pompeo has also found himself on unsteady ground on policy amid the coronavirus pandemic.
outspoken on policy matters, he seemed to play a more subdued role
early in the crisis. Then he chose to pull back from diplomacy with
China, where the outbreak began, and relentlessly criticized the Chinese
Communist Party for its actions. He pushed spy agencies
to look for evidence to support an unsubstantiated theory that the
outbreak began in a virology laboratory in the city of Wuhan, and later said
there was “enormous” and “significant” evidence behind the theory even
when many scientists and intelligence analysts argued otherwise.
Sunday, Mr. Pompeo warned China in a statement that he was aware “the
Chinese government has threatened to interfere with the work of American
journalists in Hong Kong,” which has semi-autonomy. He did not give
details, but said that “these journalists are members of a free press,
not propaganda cadres, and their valuable reporting informs Chinese
citizens and the world.” David E. Sanger and Emily Cochrane contributed reporting.