State Department firing defended in testimony

Cristopher Centers

WASHINGTON — The State Department on Wednesday rejected Democrats’ accusations of improperly firing its independent inspector general and defended its weapons sales to Saudi Arabia. Democrats say the two are connected because Steve Linick, the former inspector general, told lawmakers in June that at the time of his firing, his […]

WASHINGTON — The State Department on Wednesday rejected Democrats’ accusations of improperly firing its independent inspector general and defended its weapons sales to Saudi Arabia.

Democrats say the two are connected because Steve Linick, the former inspector general, told lawmakers in June that at the time of his firing, his office had been probing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s emergency declaration that sped up the $8 billion in arms sales. Democrats and some Republicans complained that the move improperly bypassed Congress and that Linick’s firing was part of a “cover-up.”

Three of the department’s top officials testified Wednesday during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing that Pompeo had asked President Donald Trump to fire Linick for a variety of management and ethical malpractice practices. Previously, they had blamed him for not advancing the department’s mission and leaking details about the inquiry. Linick was fired in May.

“If there is due cause, as been laid out,” said R. Clarke Cooper, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, “there is no cover-up.”

But Democrats insisted that the allegations against Linick are after-the-fact excuses for dismissing an independent investigator who was looking into allegations that could embarrass Pompeo. Linick was also investigating complaints that Pompeo and his wife, Susan, improperly used department aides to perform personal tasks for them.

“We have real concern on this committee that the firing of Mr. Linick was an abuse of power,” said Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y. “The fact that we had to drag you up here kicking and screaming itself makes me think that the department has been trying to hide the truth.”

Cooper, Brian Bulato, the undersecretary of state for management, and the department’s acting legal adviser, Marik String, testified only after the committee prepared to subpoena Pompeo.

Linick’s firing was one of several dismissals by Trump of people in charge of preventing fraud and abuse in the government.

The State Department officials told the committee that Pompeo acted appropriately on all counts. The inspector general concluded that the arms sales did not violate the letter of the law but said the department did not take enough action to limit civilian casualties.

Cooper agreed with this criticism.

“That is a finding I not only accept, but which I, my bureau, the department, and this administration take to heart, which we were working to address before the IG even put pen to paper, and which we will continue to address,” he said.

Congress had pushed for an investigation into administration’s May 2019 decision to proceed with $8 billion in sales to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan. To clear the way past lawmakers’ objections, the administration declared a “national emergency” due to tensions with Iran.

Members of Congress had been blocking some of the sales because they might contribute to the human rights disaster in Yemen. A Saudi-led series of bombings there caused significant civilian casualties.

Information for this article was contributed by Matthew Lee of The Associated Press.

From left, R. Clarke Cooper, Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs, Brian Bulatao, Under Secretary of State for Management, and Marik String, Acting Legal Adviser for the State Department, testify before a House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing looking into the firing of State Department Inspector General Steven Linick, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool via AP)

From left, R. Clarke Cooper, Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs, Brian Bulatao, Under Secretary of State for Management, and Marik String, Acting Legal Adviser for the State Department, testify before a House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing looking into the firing of State Department Inspector General Steven Linick, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool via AP)

Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., questions witnesses before a House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing looking into the firing of State Department Inspector General Steven Linick, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool via AP)

Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., questions witnesses before a House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing looking into the firing of State Department Inspector General Steven Linick, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool via AP)

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo listens during the third annual U.S.-Qatar Strategic Dialogue at the State Dept., Monday, Sept. 14, 2020 in Washington. (Erin Scott/Pool via AP)

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo listens during the third annual U.S.-Qatar Strategic Dialogue at the State Dept., Monday, Sept. 14, 2020 in Washington. (Erin Scott/Pool via AP)

From left, R. Clarke Cooper, Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs, Brian Bulatao, Under Secretary of State for Management, and Marik String, Acting Legal Adviser for the State Department, testify before a House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing looking into the firing of State Department Inspector General Steven Linick, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool via AP)

From left, R. Clarke Cooper, Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs, Brian Bulatao, Under Secretary of State for Management, and Marik String, Acting Legal Adviser for the State Department, testify before a House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing looking into the firing of State Department Inspector General Steven Linick, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool via AP)

Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., questions witnesses during a House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing looking into the firing of State Department Inspector General Steven Linick, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool via AP)

Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., questions witnesses during a House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing looking into the firing of State Department Inspector General Steven Linick, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool via AP)

Vice Chair Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, wears a face mask during a  House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing looking into the firing of State Department Inspector General Steven Linick, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool via AP)

Vice Chair Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, wears a face mask during a House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing looking into the firing of State Department Inspector General Steven Linick, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool via AP)

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., questions witnesses before a House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing looking into the firing of State Department Inspector General Steven Linick, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool via AP)

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., questions witnesses before a House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing looking into the firing of State Department Inspector General Steven Linick, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool via AP)

Marik String, Acting Legal Adviser for the State Department, is questioned via video by Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., during a House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing looking into the firing of State Department Inspector General Steven Linick, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool via AP)

Marik String, Acting Legal Adviser for the State Department, is questioned via video by Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., during a House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing looking into the firing of State Department Inspector General Steven Linick, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool via AP)

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