House Democrats call for testimony from top State officials over watchdog firing

Jun 22, 2020
In The News

House Democratic chairs on the Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees on Monday called for testimony from senior State Department officials as part of their probe into the ousting of the agency’s independent watchdog last month.

The Democratic chairs have scheduled depositions with at least six officials over the month of July they say have knowledge about the ousting of State Department Inspector General Steve Linick, whom President Trump fired last month at the request of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“The American people deserve to hear the truth about why the President fired one of the government’s independent watchdogs at Secretary Pompeo’s urging,” Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), chair of the Oversight Committee, said in a statement Monday.

“Our investigation has identified individuals who were involved in Mr. Linick’s firing, who knew about his office’s ongoing work or both.”

The chairs said the State Department refused to make the requested witnesses available for voluntary transcribed interviews. It’s unclear if the officials have confirmed their scheduled appearances.

The Hill has reached out to both committees and the State Department for clarification.

The witness list involves key figures related to the circumstances surrounding Linick’s ousting and Democrats' concerns that his firing amounted to political retaliation by Pompeo.

The secretary has said he requested Linick be removed for undermining the mission of the State Department. He has also said the IG improperly handled an investigation into a leak of an Inspector General's report detailing political retaliation at the State Department.

Pompeo has further denied having any knowledge of investigations being conducted by the office of the Inspector General before he recommended Linick’s ousting, while saying he did supply written answers to questions related to one investigation earlier this year.

Deputy Secretary of State Steve Biegun wrote in a letter to Democratic investigators that neither he, nor other senior State Department officials with knowledge of investigations ever discussed them with the secretary.

Linick was looking into at least two investigations involving the secretary, including potential misuse of federal funds by Pompeo and his wife, and the secretary’s role in justifying a presidential executive order into a multi-billion dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan and without congressional approval.

Linick testified in front of House lawmakers earlier this month, and highlighted a few key individuals as having knowledge of specific probes involving the secretary and that make up Democrats list of witnesses.

This includes Lisa Kenna, Pompeo’s executive secretary, whom Linick said he reached out to for documents related to an "administrative review of allegations relating to misuse of government resources by the secretary and his wife," according to his testimony.

Another witness Democrats called is Toni Porter, an aide to Pompeo who is reportedly the federal employee charged with running errands for the secretary related to walking his dog, picking up his dry cleaning and making dinner reservations, NBC news reported

Linick said he was unable to answer questions about Porter during his testimony with House lawmakers, saying he was “concerned about getting into matters involving our investigation.”

Other officials Democrats have called include Mike Miller, deputy assistant secretary for defense trade in the Bureau of Political Military Affairs; Marik String, former deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Political Military Affairs; and R. Clarke Cooper, assistant secretary in the Bureau of Political Military Affairs

The new witness list comes following the announcement that Under Secretary for Management Brian Bulatao will testify before House lawmakers on July 2.

Bulatao is a key figure for Democrats looking into Linick’s ousting. As the official who worked most closely with the IG, Bulatao had knowledge of investigations into the secretary, was described by Linick as attempting to bully him over the arms deal investigation and delivered the news to him that he was fired.