A former State Department inspector general had nearly finished an investigation into Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's decision to fast-track an $8 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia when he was fired last week, House Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., said.
"I have learned that there may be another reason for Mr. Linick's firing," Engel told The Washington Post. "His office was investigating — at my request — Trump's phony declaration of an emergency so he could send weapons to Saudi Arabia. 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 New York congressman first revealed on Friday that he believed inspector general Steve Linick was fired in retaliation for investigating Pompeo. Democratic colleagues told news outlets that Linick was probing if Pompeo misused taxpayer funds by making an aide run personal errands like walking his dog and picking up dry cleaning.
Engel on Monday revealed that he discovered the investigation into the arms deal. The Post reported that it was nearly completed at the time of Linick's firing.
The Trump administration declared an emergency last year in order to get around Congress and fast-track arms sales to several countries, primarily to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, in order to deter the "malign influence" of Iran.
"These sales will support our allies, enhance Middle East stability and help these nations to deter and defend themselves from the Islamic Republic of Iran," Pompeo claimed at the time.
The sales were linked to discussions the administration had with Raytheon, the defense contractor which heavily lobbied for the arms sales, according to The New York Times. Congress had blocked the sales after bomb fragments traced to the contractor were linked to Saudi bombings that killed civilians and children. Democrats also questioned the potential conflicts of interest of a State Department official involved in the deal who had previously worked as a lobbyist for Raytheon.
But the deal drew criticism from both sides of the aisle in Congress, where even Republicans called the move "unfortunate." Democrats decried it as a "slap in the face." Engel called for Linick to investigate the arms sales.
The House Foreign Relations Committee chairman on Monday demanded to know what Linick had discovered before his ouster.
"The administration should comply," Engel told The Post.
The newspaper previously reported that Linick would be replaced by Stephen Akard, a "trusted ally" of Vice President Mike Pence.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he has long had questions about the Trump administration's "coziness" with the Saudis, dating back to his defense of the Saudi royal family after the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
"Everybody has been trying to figure out why this relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia is so strangely close," Murphy told the outlet. "If Linick found out the reason, then Congress needs to know."
The White House confirmed that Pompeo had recommended Linick be fired, a move with which Trump agreed. The president told Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., that he no longer had "confidence" in the inspector general.
Pelosi said the move may have been "unlawful," because it "looks like it's in retaliation" for the investigations. Some Republicans were alarmed, as well.
"Congress requires written reasons justifying an IG's removal," Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said. "A general lack of confidence simply is not sufficient detail to satisfy Congress."
Rep. Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Relations Committee, joined Grassley on Monday in questioning the move.
"The State Department inspector general performs essential oversight of the department, so it raises questions when one is removed," a spokeswoman for McCaul said in a statement. "We are looking into the matter."
Linick's firing came after Trump similarly ousted the intelligence community inspector general who alerted Congress of the whistleblower complaint that triggered his impeachment. Trump also fired an inspector general charged with overseeing coronavirus relief bailout funds and the Health and Human Services inspector general, who drew the president's ire after reporting alarming equipment shortages at hospitals responding to the coronavirus pandemic.
"The firings of multiple inspectors general is unprecedented," Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said. "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."