Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday defended the firing of the State Department’s inspector general and took aim at Democrats investigating him over the decision, singling out Senator Robert Menendez for particularly harsh criticism.
President Trump fired Inspector General Steve Linick on Friday at Pompeo’s recommendation, saying in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that he had lost “confidence” in the State Department’s internal watchdog.
“In this case, I recommended to the president that Steve Linick be terminated. Frankly should have done it some time ago,” Pompeo said during a press briefing at the State Department.
After Linick’s dismissal, reports broke that the inspector general had launched an investigation into allegations that Pompeo had a political appointee perform personal tasks for him and his wife such as dog walking, picking up his dry cleaning, and making restaurant reservations. The secretary of state denied that his recommendation to fire Linick was retaliation for opening inquiries into his potential misuse of government resources.
“There are claims that this was for retaliation for some investigation that the inspector general’s office here was engaged in. Patently false,” Pompeo said.
“I couldn’t possibly have retaliated for all the things – I’ve seen the various stories that someone was walking my dog to sell arms to my dry cleaner,” he added, apparently conflating several reports about investigations the inspector general had opened. “I mean, it’s just crazy. It’s all crazy stuff.”
Pompeo then accused Senator Menendez of leaking information to the media and recalled that the New Jersey Democrat was criminally prosecuted, rattling off the case number apparently by memory.
“You see these stories that have been leaked to you all, right? To the press. This is all coming through the office of Senator Menendez,” Pompeo said. “I don’t get my ethics guidance from a man who was criminally prosecuted. Case Number 15-155, in New Jersey Federal District Court. A man for whom his Senate colleagues, bipartisan, said, basically that he was taking bribes. That’s not someone who I look to for ethics guidance.”
Menendez was indicted in 2015 on federal corruption charges related to accusations that he accepted bribes from a wealthy Florida ophthalmologist in exchange for political favors. He was acquitted of several charges, and the Justice Department dropped the remaining charges against the senator in January, 2018.
However, the Senate Ethics Committee “severely admonished” Menendez later in 2018 for his conduct over a six-year period, saying he accepted valuable gifts from the ophthalmologist while using his political position to advance the doctor’s interests.
Menendez along with House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel have requested that all documents related to the inspector general’s firing be released to them by Friday.