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Dems to Interview Watchdog Linick      05/31 09:53

   Members of three House and Senate committees will interview former State 
Department Inspector General Steve Linick on Wednesday as part of an 
investigation by House Democrats into his abrupt firing by President Donald 

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Members of three House and Senate committees will 
interview former State Department Inspector General Steve Linick on Wednesday 
as part of an investigation by House Democrats into his abrupt firing by 
President Donald Trump.

   Linick will speak to members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the 
House Oversight and Reform Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations 
Committee, according to two congressional aides working on the investigation 
who requested anonymity to discuss the closed-door meeting.

   Democrats announced Friday that they are expanding their probe into Linick's 
firing earlier this month with a series of interviews. The investigation is 
part of a larger effort by Democrats and some Republicans to find out more 
about Trump's recent moves to sideline several independent government watchdogs.

   The Democrats plan to interview multiple officials in the administration who 
may have more information about Linick's dismissal on May 15, including whether 
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recommended the firing for retaliatory reasons. 
Pompeo has denied Linick's firing was retaliatory but has not given specific 
reasons for his dismissal.

   The investigation is being led by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman 
Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., House Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, 
D-N.Y., and New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate 
Foreign Relations Committee. Republicans on those panels will also be invited 
to question Linick and other witnesses.

   "If Secretary Pompeo pushed for Mr. Linick's dismissal to cover up his own 
misconduct, that would constitute an egregious abuse of power and a clear 
attempt to avoid accountability," the Democrats said in a joint statement 

   The committees said they will release transcripts shortly after each 

   It's unclear whether Linick will come to Capitol Hill in person or appear 
virtually for the transcribed interviews. The House will be out of session over 
the coming week as lawmakers work from home during the coronavirus pandemic.

   The committee has asked several other State Department officials to sit for 
interviews in the probe, including Undersecretary of State for Management Brian 
Bulatao, Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs Clarke Cooper, 
Pompeo's executive secretary Lisa Kenna and acting State Department legal 
adviser Marik String, according to the congressional aides.

   Democrats and some Republicans have pushed the administration for more 
answers about the firings, but the White House has provided few, simply stating 
the dismissals were well within Trump's authority.

   Pompeo said after the firing that he had been concerned about the inspector 
general's work for some time and that he regretted not calling for his 
dismissal earlier. He said he recommended to Trump that Linick be terminated.

   Pompeo told reporters that he was unaware of any investigation into 
allegations that he may have mistreated staffers by instructing them to run 
personal errands for him and his wife such as walking his dog and picking up 
dry cleaning and takeout food. Thus, Pompeo said, the move could not have been 

   Pompeo did acknowledge that he was aware of an investigation into his 
decision last year to bypass congressional objections to approve a 
multibillion-dollar arms sale to Saudi Arabia because he had answered written 
questions about it posed by Linick's office. He maintained he did not know the 
scope or scale of the investigation.

   Engel and Menendez have been demanding answers and documents from the State 
Department and Pompeo personally for months on a variety of topics that goes 
far beyond Linick's dismissal.

   After complaining for more than a year that Pompeo and his staff have either 
refused to respond or provided only perfunctory answers to questions posed on 
personnel and policy matters, the two Democrats and their Democratic committee 
colleagues have teamed up to try to force a complete explanation from Pompeo 
and the White House as to why Trump fired Linick.

   Engel and Menendez earlier demanded that administration officials preserve 
and turn over all records related to Linick's dismissal. They said they have 
received no information so far.

   Linick is one of several inspectors general whom Trump has removed from 
office, sparking outrage among Democrats who say the administration is 
undermining government accountability. Linick was an Obama administration 
appointee whose office was critical of what it saw as political bias in the 
State Department's current management but had also taken issue with Democratic 

   He played a small role in Trump's impeachment last year. In October, Linick 
turned over documents to House investigators that he had received from a close 
Pompeo associate that contained information from debunked conspiracy theories 
about Ukraine's role in the 2016 U.S. election. Democrats were probing Trump's 
pressure on Ukraine to investigate Democrats.

   Linick is the second inspector general to be fired who was involved with the 
impeachment process. Michael Atkinson, the former inspector general for the 
intelligence community, triggered the impeachment probe when he alerted 
Congress about a whistleblower complaint that described a call between Trump 
and Ukraine's president last summer. Trump fired Atkinson in April, saying he 
had lost confidence in him.

   Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has said the White House is legally required to 
provide more answers to Congress about the firings and gave Trump a deadline to 
give them. But in a letter to Grassley this week, the administration offered no 
new details about why they were let go.

   The response from White House counsel Pat Cipollone said that Trump has the 
authority to remove inspectors general, that he appropriately alerted Congress 
and that he selected qualified officials as replacements.

   The president also moved to replace the chief watchdog at the Department of 
Health and Human Services, Christi Grimm, who testified that her office was 
moving ahead with new reports and audits on the department's response to the 
coronavirus pandemic despite Trump's public criticism of her.

   In addition, Trump demoted acting Defense Department Inspector General Glenn 
Fine, effectively removing him as head of a special board to oversee auditing 
of the coronavirus economic relief package. Fine later resigned.

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