WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump may have fired the State Department’s inspector general because he was investigating U.S. military sales to Saudi Arabia, Democratic lawmakers said on Monday as they sought to explain the latest dismissal of an official responsible for probing government misconduct.
Trump announced the planned removal of Inspector General Steve Linick in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi late on Friday. He was the fourth government inspector general that the Republican president has ousted in recent weeks.
Representative Eliot Engel, chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, and Senator Bob Menendez, ranking member on Senate Foreign Relations, said Linick had been investigating Trump’s declaration of a national emergency last year to clear the way for $8 billion in military sales, mostly to Saudi Arabia.
Engel and Menendez announced on Saturday they were launching an investigation of Linick’s firing. On Monday, Engel disclosed Linick’s probe into the Saudi arms sales.
“I have learned that there may be another reason for Mr. Linick’s firing. His office was investigating – at my request – Trump’s phony declaration of an emergency so he could send weapons to Saudi Arabia,” Engel said in a statement.
“We don’t have the full picture yet, but it’s troubling that Secretary (Mike) Pompeo wanted Mr. Linick pushed out before this work could be completed,” he said, calling on the administration to comply with the probe and turn over records by Friday.
The White House, the State Department and Saudi embassy in Washington did not respond to questions about Engel’s statement, first reported by the Washington Post.
Congressional aides had also said that Linick was investigating whether Pompeo misused a taxpayer-funded political appointee to perform personal tasks for himself and his wife, such as walking their dog.
REPUBLICANS ALSO HAVE QUESTIONS
Trump infuriated many members of Congress last May, including some fellow Republicans, by declaring a national emergency related to tensions with Iran in order to sidestep Congressional review of $8 billion in military sales, mostly to Saudi Arabia.
The House and Senate both passed resolutions to block the sales. But Trump, a staunch promoter of both U.S. arms sales and the relationship with Saudi Arabia, vetoed them, and there was not enough support in the Republican-led Senate to override his veto.
Menendez said he believed Linick was close to coming to a conclusion in his investigation of the arms sales.
“There’s a lot here that the inspector general was obviously renewing and in the totality, it’s an alarming circumstance,” Menendez said on MSNBC.
Some Republicans also expressed concern.
Senator Chuck Grassley wrote to Trump and renewed his call for a detailed written explanation for terminating the inspectors general.
Representative Michael McCaul, top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs committee, was looking into the matter, a spokeswoman said.
“The State Department Inspector General performs essential oversight of the department, so it raises questions when one is removed,” said Leslie Shedd, spokeswoman for the committee Republicans.
Trump replaced Linick with Stephen Akard, the official in charge of the Office of Foreign Missions who is considered a close ally of Vice President Mike Pence.
U.S. law allows a president to remove inspector generals, who act as watchdogs to expose waste or improper activities within government agencies.
Explaining Linick’s firing to Pelosi, Trump said only that he no longer had “fullest confidence” in Linick.
Additional reporting by Jonathan Landay and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Mary Milliken