State Dept. discouraged probe of Saudi arms sale, fired U.S. official says

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. State Department inspector general fired by President Donald Trump told lawmakers the department discouraged him from investigating arms sales to Saudi Arabia before he was dismissed last month, according to a transcript released Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. State Department Inspector General Steve Linick departs after briefing House and Senate Intelligence committees at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., October 2, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The inspector general, Steve Linick, was fired on May 15, the latest in a series of government watchdogs dismissed by the president. Members of Congress, including some of Trump’s fellow Republicans as well as Democrats, are concerned that the dismissals will prevent adequate oversight of the government.

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House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said Linick’s dismissal might have been illegal.

Democrats launched an investigation, including an interview of Linick on June 3 by members and staff of three House and Senate committees.

In the congressional interview, Linick said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declined to sit down for an interview in the investigation of the administration’s decision to declare a “national emergency” to justify $8 billion in military sales to Saudi Arabia despite congressional objections.

He also said a department official had argued the probe was outside Linick’s jurisdiction.

“I told him that, under the Foreign Service Act of 1980, it was within the IG purview to review how policy is implemented,” Linick said.

When he was fired, Linick also was investigating allegations that Pompeo and his wife used a taxpayer-funded employee for personal errands. Linick said in the interview that his office was engaged in more investigations when he was fired, including an audit of the Special Immigrant Visa process.

Pompeo has insisted Linick’s dismissal was not retaliation. On Wednesday, Pompeo called Linick a “bad actor.”

In a letter sent on Monday and seen by Reuters, a top department official criticized standards in Linick’s office and said he should be investigated for leaking information.

Linick was cleared in a previous probe of alleged leaks.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Jonathan Oatis

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