Trump Says Pompeo Asked Him to Fire State Department Watchdog

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump said Secretary of State Michael Pompeo asked him to fire the State Department’s inspector general, Steve Linick.

“I don’t know the gentleman,” Trump said Monday at the White House during a meeting with restaurateurs at the White House. “I was happy to do it. Mike requested that I do it.”

Trump Says Pompeo Asked Him to Fire State Department Watchdog

Trump notified Congress on Friday that he would fire Linick, saying he had lost confidence in the official. Linick was appointed to the job by Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel said earlier Monday that Linick was investigating an emergency declaration Trump issued last year in order to hasten U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia as it wages war against rebels in Yemen. A congressional official has said Linick was also investigating whether Pompeo directed an aide to perform personal errands, including walking his dog.

The firing has drawn outrage from congressional Democrats who were already concerned about Trump’s removal or replacement of other inspectors general. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote Trump on Monday to ask him for a “detailed and substantial justification” for Linick’s removal within the 30 days before his dismissal will take effect.

“This removal is part of a pattern of undermining the integrity of the inspectors general and therefore our government,” Pelosi said, citing news reports that the action “may have been in response to Inspector General Linick nearing completion of an investigation into the approval of billions of dollars in arms sales to Saudi Arabia.”

Trump Says Pompeo Asked Him to Fire State Department Watchdog

Some Republicans also have expressed concern. Senator Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, has said Trump must more fully explain the move.

‘Treated Unfairly’

“I think we’ve been treated very unfairly by inspector generals,” Trump said. But he said he didn’t know specifically what Linick had done wrong.

“Maybe he thinks he’s being treated unfairly,” Trump said of Pompeo. “This is a man who has had some controversy, this inspector general,” he said, before repeating that he doesn’t know much about him.

Trump said he believes inspectors general appointed by his predecessor should “generally” be replaced throughout the government.

The president belittled the idea that Pompeo would be under investigation for directing aides to perform personal errands or that arms sales to the Saudis should be a matter of controversy.

“You mean he’s under investigation because he had someone walk his dog from the government? I don’t think it sounds that important,” he said. “Maybe he’s busy and maybe he’s negotiating with Kim Jong Un, OK, over nuclear weapons.”

He said he wasn’t familiar with the Saudi emergency declaration.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. If they are friendly countries, I try to make it as easy as possible,” he said. “It’s billions of dollars.”

He returned to the idea Pompeo is under investigation for misusing government employees.

“It’s so stupid,” he said. “You know how stupid that sounds to the world?”

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