The State Department inspector general fired by President Donald Trump last week was investigating whether Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a staffer perform a variety of personal errands, including walking his dog, picking up dry cleaning and making a dinner reservation for him and his wife, a Democratic aide told CNN.
The revelation will likely add new scrutiny to Trump’s firing of Steve Linick on Friday evening – the latest in a series of dismissals of independent government watchdogs tasked with oversight of the President’s administration. A senior State Department official previously confirmed to CNN that Pompeo recommended Linick be removed, but they did not know the reasons why.
NBC News first reported the details of Linick’s investigation into Pompeo. CNN reached out to the State Department for a statement but has not yet received a response.
Trump’s latest late-night firing of an inspector general as the media’s attention was focused on the coronavirus pandemic that has claimed the lives of over 89,000 Americans, prompted immediate bipartisan criticism from lawmakers including Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, a longtime proponent of inspectors general.
“As I’ve said before, Congress requires written reasons justifying an IG’s removal. A general lack of confidence simply is not sufficient detail to satisfy Congress,” Grassley said on Saturday, referring to the justification for Linick’s firing cited by Trump.
“It is vital that I have the fullest confidence in the appointees serving as Inspectors General. That is no longer the case with regard to this Inspector General,” Trump said in a letter sent late Friday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Grassley told CNN’s Manu Raju on May 4 that he did not think more legislation was necessary to protect IGs, saying, “I think we have plenty of laws to protect inspectors general.”
CNN reached out to Grassley Sunday to see if his stance has since changed but have not yet received a response.
Romney called the firings ‘a threat to accountable democracy’
Later on Saturday, Republican Sen. Mitt Romney called the firings “a threat to accountable democracy.”
“The firings of multiple Inspectors General is unprecedented; doing so without good cause chills the independence essential to their purpose. It is a threat to accountable democracy and a fissure in the constitutional balance of power,” the Utah Republican tweeted.
News about the nature of Linick’s investigation comes after the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot Engel, said Friday the State Department watchdog was investigating Pompeo, though the New York Democrat did not provide any further details about the scope of this investigation.
“I have learned that the Office of the Inspector General had opened an investigation into Secretary Pompeo,” Engel said in his statement denouncing the firing.
CNN reported Friday night that the inspector general investigation Engel referenced centers around possible misuse of a political appointee at the State Department to perform personal tasks for Pompeo and his wife, according to a Democratic congressional aide with knowledge of the investigation.
A source close to Linick previously told CNN the allegation raised by the Democratic aide had previously been brought to Linick’s office but was not aware of an official investigation being opened into the matter.
CNN reported in July that Democrats on a key House congressional committee were investigating allegations from a whistleblower within the State Department about Pompeo’s use of taxpayer-funded Diplomatic Security to carry out tasks for his family – prompting agents to lament they are at times viewed as “UberEats with guns.”
During his time in office, the President has repeatedly shown hostility to any independent scrutiny from within the government, often targeting officials he sees as holdovers from President Barack Obama’s administration or part of the so-called deep state, which he believes is aligned against him.
Trump has now fired multiple inspectors general following his Senate acquittal in early February, including the late-night dismissal last month of the intelligence community watchdog Michael Atkinson, who told Congress about the whistleblower complaint that kick-started the impeachment process.
He also recently removed the acting inspector general for the Defense Department, Glenn Fine, from his post as chairman of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee tasked with overseeing $2 trillion in emergency coronavirus funding.
Linick’s role in Trump’s impeachment
Linick, who was first appointed as an inspector general by Obama, had a small role in the impeachment inquiry.
He gave a private briefing to bipartisan staff from eight House and Senate committees and gave them documents that the State Department had received from Trump’s private attorney Rudy Giuliani. The documents included unfounded allegations of wrongdoing against Joe Biden and former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. By doing this, he broke ranks with State Department leadership who vowed not to cooperate with the investigation.
A State Department spokesperson previously confirmed Linick’s dismissal and said that Ambassador Stephen Akard, an ally of Vice President Mike Pence, will take on the role. Akard’s ties to Pence, which date back to when he worked under then-Indiana Gov. Pence as the head of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, have previously rankled former diplomats who see him as a part of the politicization of the State Department.
“On September 11, 2019, Ambassador Akard was confirmed by the Senate, 90-2, to lead the Department’s Office of Foreign Missions and we look forward to him leading the Office of the Inspector General,” a State Department spokesperson said. Akard is a former career Foreign Service Officer who served as a special assistant in the Executive Secretariat, as a political officer and general officer at Embassy Brussels, and served as a consular officer at the US Consulate General in Mumbai.
The decision to choose Akard as his successor was done in consultation with his management team, but Pompeo ultimately made the decision, the official said.
“This is scary and completely unexpected,” a separate State Department source close to Linick told CNN.
This source didn’t know of anything that seemed to trigger this beyond Trump’s general ire with what he deems to be the “deep state.”
A different source said senior staff in the State Department Inspector General’s office were blindsided. Akard has been named under the vacancies act to bypass Linick’s deputy, Diana Shaw, who just assumed the role this month after having shifted from the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General’s office. CBS first reported Pompeo’s role.
This story has been updated with additional information.
CNN’s Paul LeBlanc, Manu Raju, Jennifer Hansler and Michelle Kosinski contributed to this report.