Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says he didn’t retaliate against Steve Linick when he asked President Trump to fire him as State Department inspector general — and that New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez is to blame for stoking controversy about the move.
Pompeo accused Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, during a Wednesday press conference at the State Department.
“This is all coming through the office of Senator Menendez,” Pompeo said. “I don’t get my ethics guidance from a man who was criminally prosecuted — case number 15-155, New Jersey federal district court. A man for whom his Senate colleagues, bipartisan said basically that he was taking bribes. That’s not someone who I look to for ethics guidance.”
Menendez’s office did not immediately respond to Pompeo.
The secretary of state said he would not publicly provide a reason why he asked Trump to fire Linick, though Pompeo told the Washington Post this week that Linick was “undermining” the department.
“I recommended to the president that Steve Linick be terminated — frankly should have done it some time ago,” Pompeo said at the press conference. “We’ll share with the appropriate people the rationale.”
Linick, according to reports, was investigating Pompeo for tasking staff with personal errands such as walking his dog and picking up dry cleaning, and also for potentially subverting Congress by authorizing arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
Pompeo said he knew only about one investigation, and that he couldn’t possibly have retaliated.
“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,” Pompeo said.
“I didn’t have access to that information so I couldn’t possibly have retaliated. It would have been impossible. There’s one exception. I was asked a series of questions in writing. I responded to those questions with respect to a particular investigation that was sometime earlier this year, as best I can recall. I responded to those questions.”
A spokeswoman for Menendez said a response to Pompeo would be coming “soon.”
Menendez was admonished in 2018 by the Senate Ethics Committee for his relationship with donor Salomon Melgen. A 2017 trial of Menendez ended in a mistrial and the Trump Justice Department dropped the case in 2018.
Menendez was accused of accepting free flights and gifts from Melgen, a wealthy Florida ophthalmologist, in exchange for help getting visas for Melgen’s girlfriends and assistance in a Medicare billing dispute and a port contract in the Dominican Republic.
Melgen was convicted in 2017 of fraud for overbilling Medicare by as much as $105 million. He was sentenced to serve 17 years in prison.
Although Pompeo didn’t offer the reason, State Department undersecretary for management Brian Bulatao told the Washington Post this week that there was concern about Linick’s possible connection to a “pattern of unauthorized disclosures, or leaks” to reporters.
Trump defended the termination of Linick on Monday, noting he was a holdover from the Obama administration, but told reporters “you’d have to ask Mike Pompeo” for details.