Pompeo denies retaliation but won't explain watchdog ouster

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a press briefing at the State Department on Wednesday, May 20, 2020, in Washington. (Nicholas Kamm/Pool Photo via AP)

WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday adamantly denied that he recommended firing the State Department’s independent watchdog in retaliation for investigations into Pompeo's conduct as America’s top diplomat. But Pompeo again declined to provide specific reasons for Steve Linick's dismissal as inspector general.

Pompeo took an unusually harsh shot at the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez. Pompeo accused the senator's office of being behind allegations that Linick's ouster was motivated by revenge. Pompeo said he would not take ethics lessons from Menendez, who was once prosecuted by the Justice Department on corruption charges, but his trial ended in a hung jury and prosecutors decided in early 2018 not to retry him.

“I don’t get my ethics advice from Sen. Menendez," he said.

Menendez responded by saying Pompeo's use of "diversion tactics by attempting to smear me is as predictable as it is shameful.”

He said in a statement that Pompeo faced an investigation “into this improper firing and into his attempt to cover up his inappropriate and possibly illegal actions," and that it was no surprise Pompeo was lashing out against lawmakers for their congressional oversight.

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, it would have been impossible for retaliation to have been the motive behind his recommendation to President Donald Trump to dismiss Linick.

“It’s patently false," he said. “I have no sense of what investigations were taking place inside the inspector general’s office. I couldn’t possibly have retaliated for all the things. I’ve seen the various stories that like, someone was walking my dog to sell arms to my dry cleaner. I mean, it’s all just crazy. It’s all crazy stuff.”

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, But Pompeo maintained he did not know the scope or scale of the investigation.