Congress Calls State Dept. Officials for Interviews in Expanded Pompeo Inquiry

Congress Calls State Dept. Officials for Interviews in Expanded Pompeo Inquiry

WASHINGTON — Democratic leaders in Congress announced on Friday that three committees were calling top State Department officials to be formally interviewed in an expanding investigation into Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his role in the sudden firing by President Trump this month of the department’s inspector general.

At the urging of Mr. Pompeo, Mr. Trump notified Congress the night of May 15 that he was dismissing the inspector general, Steve A. Linick, starting the clock on a 30-day review period by lawmakers.

The next day, two lawmakers, Representative Eliot L. Engel of New York, a Democrat who is the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, opened an inquiry into the firing. Congressional aides said they had learned that Mr. Linick had been conducting investigations tied directly to Mr. Pompeo and his wife, Susan Pompeo, a State Department volunteer.

On Friday, those two lawmakers and Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York and the chairwoman of the Oversight and Reform Committee, confirmed that Mr. Linick, whose hundreds of employees investigate fraud and waste at the agency, was overseeing at least two inquiries into Mr. Pompeo.

“If Secretary Pompeo pushed for Mr. Linick’s dismissal to cover up his own misconduct, that would constitute an egregious abuse of power and a clear attempt to avoid accountability,” they said in a joint statement.

The committees plan to interview officials with knowledge of Mr. Linick’s investigations and how those might have influenced Mr. Pompeo’s recommendation that Mr. Trump fire him, they said.

“As these interviews take place, we plan to make public the transcripts of those proceedings as quickly as possible,” they said. “The truth about Mr. Linick’s firing will come out.”

The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The committee leaders did not identify the officials being called, but a congressional aide provided a list of seven names. Three are close aides of Mr. Pompeo at the State Department: Brian Bulatao, Lisa Kenna and Toni Porter. Mr. Bulatao, the under secretary for management, was a West Point classmate of Mr. Pompeo before going into business with him in Kansas and, in 2017, following him to the C.I.A., where Mr. Pompeo worked as director. Mr. Bulatao became the C.I.A.’s chief operating officer.

Mr. Pompeo has come under intense scrutiny for political and personal activities carried out using taxpayer funds because one of Mr. Linick’s investigations focused on whether Mr. Pompeo had asked State Department employees to carry out personal tasks for him and his wife. That investigation centered on Ms. Porter, a friend of the Pompeos from Kansas who worked as a district director for Mr. Pompeo when he was a congressman and who also followed him to the C.I.A., where she was chief of protocol. At the State Department, she has the title of senior adviser, and she works with the Pompeos on planning their domestic trips, among other things.

After Mr. Linick’s firing, news organizations reported on two dozen lavish dinners that the couple had hosted at the State Department — and that Ms. Porter helped plan — where guests mostly included prominent Republican donors, lawmakers and personalities in the news media. Reporters also documented secretive visits that Mr. Pompeo made with those same types of figures while on official State Department trips, including frequent ones last year to Kansas.

Ms. Kenna is a career diplomat who until recently served as the executive secretary to Mr. Pompeo. Her name surfaced during the House impeachment hearings last fall into whether Mr. Trump had pressured Ukraine for political gain, an effort that Mr. Pompeo enabled. On May 1, Mr. Trump nominated Ms. Kenna as ambassador to Peru.

A second investigation by Mr. Linick examined whether Mr. Pompeo and other top administration officials acted illegally in declaring an “emergency” last year to bypass a congressional freeze on arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have carried out a devastating air war in Yemen. Raytheon is a main exporter of the weapons. That investigation was close to completion.

The four other officials whom lawmakers plan to interview are State Department officials involved in that initiative: R. Clarke Cooper, Marik String, Mark Miller and Charles Faulkner.

Democratic lawmakers and aides said this week that they were blocking another proposed package of arms sales to Saudi Arabia, but they fear Mr. Pompeo might try to push that through, as he did last year. The State Department gave Congress informal notification in January of the move, which includes granting Raytheon licenses to expand its manufacturing footprint in Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Pompeo had declined to be interviewed by Mr. Linick’s investigators on the arms sales matter but had submitted written answers to questions, indicating he knew of the inquiry and its focus. And in early March, Mr. Linick’s employees briefed senior department officials on the preliminary findings.

Mr. Pompeo has said he did not ask Mr. Trump to fire Mr. Linick as retaliation for the inquiries and has mocked accusations of potential wrongdoing as “crazy stuff.”

Part of the public scrutiny over Mr. Pompeo centers on whether he is using State Department funds to help build a political network for a potential presidential campaign in 2024. Mr. Pompeo has quietly visited with Republican donors and political figures on diplomatic trips, leaving those off his public schedule.

Mr. Pompeo had considered running for an open Senate seat in Kansas, and he made four trips last year to Kansas, three on official taxpayer-funded visits.

The Office of Special Counsel investigated whether he had violated the Hatch Act, which limits the political activities of federal employees, but determined in late January he had not because he had asserted earlier that month that he had no plans to enter the race.

Yet, because Republican leaders have been pressing him to run, speculation has flared as late as this week over whether Mr. Pompeo will declare his candidacy before a filing deadline on Monday.

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