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Dismissive Pompeo urged to testify on firing watchdog

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks the press at the State Department in Washington, DC, on May 20, 2020. He has dismissed allegations against him as "crazy stuff" - NICHOLAS KAMM / ©AFP
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks the press at the State Department in Washington, DC, on May 20, 2020. He has dismissed allegations against him as "crazy stuff" - NICHOLAS KAMM / ©AFP

(AFP)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo faced calls Wednesday to testify before Congress over his firing of an internal watchdog, as he brushed off allegations against him as “crazy stuff.”

Inspector General Steve Linick, who was dismissed Friday evening, was said to be investigating claims that Pompeo asked an employee to walk his dog, pick up dry-cleaning and make dinner reservations for him and his wife.

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Lawmakers said Linick was also probing President Donald Trump’s declaration of an emergency that let Pompeo bypass Congress to sell $8.1 billion of weapons to Saudi Arabia and other Arab allies.

“I’ve seen the various stories that someone was walking my dog to sell arms to my dry cleaner. I mean, it’s all just crazy, crazy stuff,” Pompeo told reporters.

“I recommended to the president that Steve Linick be terminated. Frankly, should have done it some time ago,” he said.

Pompeo refused to elaborate on the reasons for sacking Linick, saying only that appointees serve at the pleasure of the president.

He said he responded in writing to questions from Linick in one investigation — “sometime earlier this year, as best as I can recall” — but did not disclose details.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top-ranking Democrat, said that Trump’s dismissal of Linick — the fourth time since April that he has sacked an inspector general — was part of his “undermining our democracy.”

“I think it’s a reflection of the complete disregard for the truth of the Trump administration,” Pelosi told reporters. “This is scandalous.”

“He should come up and testify,” she said of Pompeo.

– ‘Fake emergency’ –

Pelosi voiced particular concern over arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which has faced criticism even from some Republicans over its offensive in Yemen in which schools, hospitals and other civilian targets have been hit.

Pompeo skirted around congressional objections by saying there was an emergency with Iran, which supports Yemen’s Huthi rebels.

“They declared a fake emergency in order to initiate the sale,” Pelosi said, “and that may have been part of the investigation.”

By law, Congress also has 30 days to review firings of inspector generals. Democratic lawmakers have demanded that the administration hand over documents on Linick’s dismissal by Friday.

Robert Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who frequently spars with Pompeo, has also proposed toughening rules to restrict dismissals of inspectors general to explicit reasons such as misuse of funds.

Pompeo sharply criticized Menendez, saying: “I don’t get my ethics guidance from a man who was criminally prosecuted… a man about whom his Senate colleagues, bipartisan, said basically that he was taking bribes.”

Menendez was accused of using his office to do favors for a friend, such as helping his girlfriends obtain US visas, in exchange for gifts such as a luxury hotel stay as well as campaign donations.

The New Jersey senator steadfastly proclaimed his innocence and was acquitted on several counts in January 2016, after which prosecutors dropped remaining charges.

He hit back Wednesday that Pompeo should “focus on answering questions” about a firing he said could be illegal.

“The fact that Secretary Pompeo is now trying diversion tactics by attempting to smear me is as predictable as it is shameful,” Menendez said.

Pompeo is a stalwart ally of Trump and one of the few aides never to clash publicly with the mercurial president.

He has pressed a hawkish foreign policy, encouraging a drone strike that killed a top Iranian general in January and promoting a theory, discounted by mainstream scientists, that COVID-19 originated in a Chinese laboratory.

Shaun TANDON

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