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Ex-State Department Inspector General Says He Was Given No Valid Reason When Fired

Then-State Department Inspector General Steve Linick leaves a meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington last year.
J. Scott Applewhite
Then-State Department Inspector General Steve Linick leaves a meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington last year.

The State Department's ousted inspector general has told congressional Democrats he was given "no valid reason" for his removal and that one of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's aides tried to bully him.

Democrats are investigating whether Steve Linick was removed in retaliation for carrying out his duties. In an interview with Democratic leaders of the House and Senate last week, Linick confirmed he was looking into the alleged misuse of State Department resources by Pompeo and his wife.

Linick also said he came under pressure over his probe of the State Department's role in an arms deal with Saudi Arabia.

Pompeo fired back, calling Linick a "bad actor."

"He didn't take on the mission of the State Department to make us better," Pompeo told reporters Wednesday. "That's what inspector generals are supposed to do; they work for the agency head – that's me – and they are supposed to deliver and help make that organization better," Pompeo insisted.

"Secretary Pompeo's statement that the Inspector General works for the agency head is wrong," said retired Ambassador Ronald Neumann, president of the American Academy of Diplomacy, in a statement to NPR. In fact, Neumann said, the law forbids the secretary to "prevent or prohibit the Inspector General from initiating, carrying out, or completing any audit or investigation." The veteran diplomat called the administration's comments about Linick "deeply disturbing in their refusal to pay attention to the law."

Linick told lawmakers he had a "number of disagreements" with Undersecretary of State for Management Brian Bulutao, a close friend and aide to Pompeo. "At times he tried to bully me," Linick said of Bulatao, adding that the undersecretary wanted him to halt a review of the department's decision to greenlight a $7 billion arms sales to Saudi Arabia over objections in Congress.

Linick was appointed inspector general in 2013. President Trump fired him on May 15, saying he was acting at Pompeo's request. Linick told lawmakers that his dismissal came without warning. "I was in a state of shock because I had no advance notice of anything like that," Linick said, according to a transcript of his interview with members of Congress. Pompeo said his only mistake was letting Linick stay on as long as he did.

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Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.