A key House Democrat says that might be why he was fired.
The recently-fired State Department inspector general was investigating a controversial decision by the Trump administration to sidestep congressional approval for $8 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia last year, a key House Democrat alleged on Monday.
The probe ”may be another reason for [Inspector General Steve Linick’s] firing,” House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., said in a statement. “We don’t have the full picture yet, but it’s troubling that Secretary Pompeo wanted Mr. Linick pushed out before this work could be completed.”
The Saudi arms probe was first reported by the Washington Post.
Linick, who was fired last week by President Donald Trump on Pompeo’s recommendation, was nearly finished with the probe, according to a committee aide, and had briefed State Department leadership on his findings sometime in the last few months. He is the latest in a string of inspectors general to be dismissed by Trump as part of what critics have described as a loyalty purge. Linick played a small role in Trump’s impeachment hearings and is reported to have also been investigating whether Pompeo used taxpayer resources for personal errands.
The White House and State Department provided no reason for Linick’s dismissal. Trump, in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said only that he had lost confidence in Linick.
The move drew swift criticism from Democrats and a handful of Republicans, including frequent Trump critic Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah.
“The firings of multiple Inspectors General is unprecedented; doing so without good cause chills the independence essential to their purpose,” Romney wrote on Twitter on Saturday. “It is a threat to accountable democracy and a fissure in the constitutional balance of power.”
Senate Finance Committee chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has also called for more information on the dismissal. “Although [Linick] failed to fully evaluate the State Department’s role in advancing the debunked Russian collusion investigation, those shortcomings do not waive the President’s responsibility to provide details to Congress when removing an IG,” Grassley said in a statement. “A general lack of confidence simply is not sufficient detail to satisfy Congress.”
The arms-sale investigation revolves around the Trump administration’s use of an emergency declaration to push through arms sales to both Saudi Arabia and the UAE in the spring of 2019. By invoking a rarely used provision in the Arms Export Control Act, Trump was able to greenlight 22 arms deals that were blocked by Congress in the wake of the killing of Washington Post columnist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi.
It was not the first time the executive branch had sidestepped Congress’ attempt to block a foreign arms sale. The Carter administration used the provision in 1979 to sell arms to Yemen and the Reagan administration in 1984 sold Stinger missiles to Saudi Arabia, Rachel Stohl, head of the Conventional Defense Program at the Stimson Center, explained to Defense One at the time. It’s difficult for lawmakers to block foreign arms sales, but often they can slow them, much like they’ve done with other sales to Saudi and UAE during the Trump administration.
Engel’s committee, along with top Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democrat Sen. Bob Menendez, N.J., has launched its own investigation into Linick’s dismissal. The two lawmakers are demanding that the State Department turn over all records related to the firing by Friday, May 22.
A spokesman for Pompeo did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Marcus Weisgerber contributed to this report.