Washington—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, today delivered the following opening remarks at a full committee hearing on the Trump Administration's firing of the State Department Inspector General Steve Linick:
On the evening of May 15th, a Friday, the President notified Speaker Pelosi that he was removing the State Department Inspector General, Steve Linick. The law requires 30 days’ notice to fire an IG, so Mr. Linick’s last day was technically June 14th. The President and the Secretary, however, violated the spirit of that law by immediately placing Mr. Linick on leave and locking him out of both his office and his email. In the days that followed, both the President and Secretary Pompeo made clear that the firing came at Mr. Pompeo’s urging.
I predict that today we may hear the refrain repeated that the President has the power to fire an inspector general whenever he wants to so long as he provides the reasons for the firing to Congress. No one’s doubting that. I don’t think in the last four months I’ve heard anyone say otherwise. The President has that power.
But as we’ve seen again and again in the last four years, the President shows very little reluctance to abuse his power. And in May, when Mr. Linick was removed, the President had been on a firing spree of inspectors general, the executive branch’s independent watchdogs who help provide accountability and transparency in our government.
With that in mind, and in need of information provided to the Committee that Mr. Linick’s firing may have been retaliatory in nature—again, something that would represent an abuse of power—the Committee launched an investigation into Mr. Linick’s removal, along with the Committee on Oversight and Reform and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Minority Office.
While the State Department has refused to date to produce any of the records, we have requested related to the firing, witnesses have come forward and given us a lot of good detail and context. Reports in the press have shed even more light on this matter.
Now here’s what we know.
Mr. Linick’s firing was not a spur-of-the-moment decision. While Mr. Linick was told on May 15th that he was being pushed out, his temporary replacement, Ambassador Steven Akard, had already been lined up for a month or more. In his affidavit to the Committee, Mr. Akard says, that Mr. Bulatao contacted him either on April 9 or April 15, saying that Mr. Linick’s ouster was imminent and asking him if he would assume the IG’s responsibilities on an acting basis. Over the next few weeks, Mr. Bulatao and Mr. Akard spoke several more times, including on May 14th and May 16th as Mr. Linick’s removal was going forward.
We know that at the time Mr. Linick was fired, his office was conducting two investigations involving Secretary Pompeo’s conduct.
The first probe dealt with allegations that the Secretary and his wife misused government resources for their own personal benefit.
According to Mr. Linick’s testimony, his team began reaching out to the Office of the Secretary requesting documents in late 2019. Mr. Linick stated that, about the same time, he spoke to Mr. Bulatao, among other senior officials, to let them know he was seeking information. In his words, his aim quote “not to surprise the Seventh Floor,” meaning the Department’s leadership, with news of his probe.
Mr. Linick said that his office had contacted State Department Executive Secretary Lisa Kenna about this matter as well. Indeed, Ms. Kenna, in her interview with the Committee, testified that in March of this year, the OIG requested documents related to the Pompeos’ travel. Like Mr. Linick, Ms. Kenna discussed this matter with senior Department officials, again among them Mr. Bulatao and also Mr. String. Ms. Kenna also stated that quote “every time there is an invitation to [Mrs. Pompeo] that involves travel, I get it to the Under Secretary for Management, and he makes the determination.” End quote. The Under Secretary for Management being Mr. Bulatao.
Ms. Kenna authorized a search for these documents, but Mr. Linick was fired before they were turned over to the OIG. According to Ms. Kenna, the documents were only sent to the OIG after Ambassador Akard had taken over the IG’s Office.
We presume the OIG’s work on this matter is ongoing, so we don’t know all the details.
Press reports have also alleged that Secretary and Mrs. Pompeo used government employees to handle personal errands. Ms. Toni Porter, an advisor to the Secretary, told us in an interview that the Secretary and Mrs. Pompeo—who is not a State Department employee—would often have Ms. Porter work on matters of “special interest” to the Secretary, which apparently included making dinner reservations and helping with the Pompeos’ personal Christmas cards.
Reporting in the press earlier this week disclosed email traffic involving Mrs. Pompeo, Ms. Porter, and Ms. Kenna, indicating that Mrs. Pompeo and Ms. Kenna both understood an assignment to Ms. Porter to be of a personal nature and worked to keep a tight circle of government employees who worked on these matters. The Committee has learned that there have been a large number of complaints to the OIG hotline about the way the Secretary and Mrs. Pompeo misusing Department resources for nonofficial matters.
But this alleged misuse of resources was not just for personal errands. It seems to be focused on the Pompeos’ political future. Specifically, there’s the question of the so-called “Madison Dinners,” a series of dinners the Pompeos have hosted on the State Department’s ornate eighth floor. Ms. Porter testified that the Pompeos conceived of the dinners as way quote “to expand the understanding of State Department work.” End quote. The only problem with that explanation is that aside from the extensive planning that goes into these dinners, barely anyone from the State Department attends them. In fact, the Secretary is the only Department official who attends the closed-door dinners. No senior diplomats, no regional experts, none of the people who, on a day to day basis, carry out State Department work. Just the Secretary, a token foreign dignitary—a requirement for the State Department to pay for the dinners—and a dozen or so guests hand-picked by the Pompeos, nearly all Republican officials or people tied somehow to right-wing politics, money, or media.
But Ms. Porter’s testimony suggests that the foreign dignity was a box-checking exercise—that the Protocol Office would sometimes swap out one dignitary for another—while the Pompeos kept a tight grip on the political side of the guest list. 
Ms. Porter also stated that since the Pompeos began hosting these dinners, they’ve built a database to keep track of all the people they’ve invited, who’s attended, email addresses, mailing addresses. Ms. Porter—whose first work for the Pompeos goes back decades and involved planning the former congressman’s fundraisers—called it a “management tool.” While it’s understandable that the State Department Protocol team to keep track of who was invited to official events, Mrs. Pompeo also had that list sent to her private email address, according to Ms. Porter. Suddenly, a normal system starts something more like a political contact tool.
These dinners are reportedly paid-for out of the State Department’s so-called “K Fund,” which can be used for quote “confidential requirements in the conduct of foreign affairs as well as other authorized activities that further the realization of U.S. foreign policy objectives.” End quote. This fund is overseen by Under Secretary Bulatao. I asked my staff to review the most recent unclassified reports to Congress on this fund, which were sent up packaged with classified info, material and are held in the SCIF. That raised an eyebrow among people who understand State Department budgets.
The Pompeos have reportedly hosted about 20 of these dinners, and after a hiatus brought on by the COVID pandemic, the dinners restarted in earnest on Monday, with three more reportedly scheduled in the next few weeks.
The second probe dealt with the Department’s May 2019 use of an emergency provision of the Arms Export Control Act to push through more than $8 billion in arms sales to Gulf countries. The OIG finished its work on this matter and released its report last month.
There’s a lot to unpack here, and it’s important that we lay it all out.
In March of 2015, the Saudi-led coalition launched an intervention in the civil war in Yemen aimed at countering the Iranian-backed Houthi forces that had seized control of Yemen’s capital. The Obama Administration initially supported this effort through arms sales and logistical support. Our partners in the Gulf faced very real security challenges that threatened freedom of navigation and US troops stationed in the Middle East.
Over time, however, it became increasingly clear that the Saudis were acting recklessly in the way they were carrying out that campaign—with US weapons. Excuse me. Civilian casualties mounted. A humanitarian crisis began burning out of control. The Obama Administration pushed pause on the sale of American weapons to the Saudis and their partners.
When President Trump took office, it was an early priority of his administration to get the flow of weapons going again. But the concerns about civilian casualties had not gone away, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, myself included, began putting holds on sales of the most lethal weapons used in this war—most notably, a sale notified in April 2018 for 120,000 Paveway precision-guided munitions — sometimes called “smart bombs.” Congress also passed legislation requiring a certification from the administration that the Saudis were taking adequate steps to reduce civilian casualties.  
On August 9, 2018, the Saudi left, Saudi-led coalition blew up a school bus, killing more than 25 children and injuring scores more. Just over a month later, in spite of this, Secretary Pompeo certified to Congress that the Saudi and Emirati governments were quote “undertaking demonstrable actions to reduce the risk of harm to civilians.” End quote. Congress didn’t buy it, and the holds on those weapons sales remained in place for nearly nine more months, while the carnage went on unabated in Yemen.
Mr. Charles Faulkner, who until last summer was an official in the State Department Legislative Affairs Bureau, told us in his interview that Congress’s concerns about civilian casualties were legitimate. In fact, he said that many State Department officials shared those same concerns.
How could you not? We’ve all seen the images. Collapsed buildings, twisted metal, mangled bodies, starving children.
We in Congress challenged the Administration to provide assurances the U.S. weapons would not be used to kill civilians or destroy civilian infrastructure. But, Secretary Pompeo wanted a different way forward. After all, as Mr. Faulkner told us, moving ahead with lots of weapons sales was a major priority for the White House.
For Mr. Pompeo, the logjam in Congress had to be broken, and in April 2019, Mr. String told Mr. Faulkner that he had found a way to do it: tell the world the sky was falling. Under the Arms Export Control Act, an administration can bypass the normal Congressional approval process by declaring an emergency. Mr. Faulkner testified that he was worried about what impact such an action would have on the Department’s relations with Capitol Hill. After all, Senator Menendez’s and my concerns about civilian casualties hadn’t diminished.
Nevertheless, on May 24, 2019, the State Department notified Congress that the administration was declaring an emergency and therefore moving forward with 22 arms sales packages, mostly for Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
As I noted earlier: no one doubts that the emergency provision exists in the law and that the executive branch has the power to invoke that that authority. To my knowledge, no one has suggested otherwise, despite the some of the spin we’ve heard from the State Department. But the question since last May has been, quote “Did Secretary Pompeo abuse that power when he declared an emergency?” Was the emergency phony? Was it a mere pretext to circumvent congressional oversight?
Those questions are why members of this Committee asked Mr. Linick, in June of last year, to look into that decision. The findings of that probe are eye-opening.
The OIG found, consistent with what I just said, that the emergency declaration did not violate the letter of the law. That’s because Congress did not define the term “emergency,” leaving it up to a normal Administration’s common sense. But, the OIG also stated explicitly, explicitly that it did not assess whether there was a real emergency underlying that declaration. Frankly, they didn’t need to make that assessment. The facts speak for themselves. Excuse me.
The unclassified portion of the report lays out a timeline for the emergency declaration that aligns with Mr. Faulkner’s testimony: it took nearly two months, from April 3 until May 24, 2019, the emergency declaration to make its way through the State Department. Seven weeks. Far longer than the 30-day congressional review period under the normal notification process codified in the law.
The report also tells us—underneath redactions that the Department insisted the OIG slap on top of the version released to the public—that Mr. Pompeo determined on May 4 that he wanted to send the emergency notification to Congress no later than May 24. An emergency that you can plan for seven weeks in advance isn’t an emergency, especially when the regular Congressional review process would have taken less time. I have to note that Mr. Cooper testified before this Committee last year that the emergency that required this extraordinary action arose between May 21, 2019, when Mr. Pompeo briefed Congress, and May 24, 2019, when the declaration was transmitted to us. That testimony was false.
The report also indicates that most of the arms packages have not been delivered yet, and likely won’t be during this calendar year. Again, what kind of wartime emergency can be addressed with weapons that arrive two years later. The answer obviously is none. There was no emergency. Ranking Member McCaul and I offered an amendment to last year’s NDAA that would have better defined “emergency.”
But in my view, the nonsense that the Department pulled to get around Congress is a secondary question. Yes, I believe it was an abuse of power and an affront to our system of checks and balances. I believe the Department made false representations to this Committee. But what’s this really about?
Many of us here in Congress saw the situation on the ground in Yemen and said, “Enough.”  We thought that before we shift-shipped instruments of death overseas, adequate precautions should be in place to ensure those instruments would not be used to blow up school buses or funeral processions. We did not want the United States to be party to the slaughter of innocents.
But Mike Pompeo’s State Department did not see it that way. His view is summed up in this sentence from the OIG’s report and I quote: “OIG found the Department did not fully assess risks and implement mitigation measures to reduce civilian casualties and legal concerns associated with the transfer of PGMs included in the Secretary’s May 2019 emergency certification.”
Didn’t assess the risks. Didn’t try to reduce civilian casualties. Didn’t deal with legal concerns. This isn’t describing the Saudis or Emiratis. It’s describing our own State Department, under the Trump Administration, Under Mike Pompeo.
Now think about that finding in the broader context I’ve just laid out and ask yourself, why didn’t they do those things? Was it an oversight? In the mad rush to get weapons out the door after Mr. Pompeo made that emergency declaration, did those questions just fall by the wayside?
Of course, the answer is of course not. The emergency was declared specifically so that the Department could avoid answering those questions.
And how do we know that? Because those were the precise questions Congress was already asking. That’s why we held the arms sales. What are the risks? What are we doing to reduce civilian deaths?
This is a deeply damning report. Now that we’ve seen it, the findings of our own investigation into the IG’s firing make more sense, namely, that State Department officials have been trying for months to suppress the findings.
In his testimony, Mr. Linick said that Mr. Bulatao and Mr. String attempted to bully him by saying that the OIG should not be looking into this matter, that it was a policy decision outside the OIG’s purview. Of course, it’s entirely legitimate, entirely legitimate for an IG to examine policy implementation. Again, per Mr. Linick’s testimony, Mr. Bulatao seemed not to understand the role of an independent IG.
It’s also quite noteworthy that Secretary Pompeo refused to be interviewed for the OIG’s review. Mr. Linick stated that late last year, he approached Mr. Bulatao, Mr. String, and Deputy Secretary Biegun about scheduling the interview. The Secretary’s team suggested that Mr. Linick conduct the interview personally. Mr. Linick told Mr. String that he was amenable to the idea, so long as one other member of the OIG staff could be present as a witness. The Secretary’s team apparently ignored that request and instead Secretary Pompeo was never interviewed by Mr. Linick. Instead, Mr. Pompeo provided the OIG with a written statement that it had never requested.   
When the pandemic hit in March and the OIG was wrapping up its work on this matter, Mr. Linick considered to-the issue unresolved and hoped to find some time in the future to interview the Secretary, which he continued to discuss with Mr. String. But, before he and Mr. String reached an accommodation, Mr. Linick was fired. Everything Mr. Linick said suggested that he considered an interview with Mr. Pompeo to be an important piece of unfinished business.
Mr. Linick’s temporary replacement, Mr. Akard, learned quickly that Secretary Pompeo was particularly interested in this report. According to Mr. Akard’s affidavit, during his first two weeks on the job, both Deputy Secretary Biegun and Mr. Bulatao called him expressing Mr. Pompeo’s curiosity about when the OIG’s work on arms sales would be done.
Mr. Akard recused himself from that process—and from the probe into the misuse of resources. That was sensible, as Mr. Akard had deep conflicts of interest: in addition to service as acting Inspector General, he retained his role in the State Department as the Director of the Office of Foreign Missions, in which he reported both to Mr. Bulatao and Secretary Pompeo. It’s easy to see how this would affect his work: if Mr. Akard began in an investigation into a matter the Secretary did not want reviewed, Mr. Akard’s career in the State Department could potentially suffer.
The rollout of this report a little more than a month ago is also now shrouded in controversy.
The evening before the OIG released the report, there was a background briefing for press on the report’s findings. But it wasn’t the OIG that held this briefing. It was the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, specifically, Mr. Cooper under the guise of a quote “senior State Department official.” End quote. They stole a page right out of Attorney General Bill Barr’s playbook. The report wasn’t yet public. The press didn’t have copies. Neither did Congress. Nevertheless, Mr. Cooper, who wasn’t an author of the report but was himself interviewed as a fact witness in the probe, tried to spin the media with his most favorable interpretation of events. The State Department tried to take an early victory lap because the OIG found that they didn’t technically break the law. It’s all reminiscent of Attorney General Barr going out and saying the Mueller Report exonerated the President.
The next day, the next day, the unclassified version of the report was released to the public with a number of key redactions. The public version of the report hid the timeline that undercuts the Department’s claim of an emergency. In the public version, the timeline only runs from May 21, when Mr. Pompeo briefed Congress, to May 24th, when the emergency certification was sent to Congress. Hidden are the other dates stretching back to early April, when the emergency authority was first considered. Other redactions hid the fact that few of the weapons, at the time of the OIG’s review, had been delivered.
The OIG has since provided us a memorandum showing that it was Mr. Cooper himself who demanded those redactions, working in consultation with Mr. Joshua Dorosin, a deputy in Mr. String’s office. To reiterate, Mr. Cooper, Mr. Dorosin and Mr. String were all interviewed by OIG as witnesses in this matter. In fact, Mr. Dorosin was sent by the department earlier in this investigation to try and convince my office to not to push for documents and witnesses in this matter, without disclosing that he was a witness himself. The fact that neither of them recused himself from dealing with the OIG report before it was released is baffling—a glaring ethics lapse.
And finally, on the arms sales matter, we have the question of the classified annex. A considerable chunk of the OIG’s findings and recommendations are hidden in a classified section, and about 40 percent of that section is also hidden under redactions that not even members of Congress are permitted to see behind. And, again, Mr. Cooper decided that members of this coequal branch of government—that this Committee, which authorizes and oversees the State Department—should not have access to the OIG’s findings. It boggles your mind.
So, to recap: we have two OIG investigations, potentially embarrassing for Mr. Pompeo. In March of 2019, both of those probes are ramping up, getting closer and closer to the Secretary and his top advisors. Then in April, Mr. Bulatao tells Mr. Akard that Steve Linick’s days as IG are numbered. After a few weeks of back-and-forth with the White House, Mr. Linick is out.
In the aftermath, Mr. Pompeo pushes Mr. Linick’s replacement to find out when the arms sales report is going to be ready. And when Ms. Porter is contacted by the IG to sit for an interview dealing with misuse of resources, Mr. Bulatao assures her that there’s no need to rush to get it on the calendar.
Now, Secretary Pompeo and Mr. Bulatao’s version of why Mr. Linick was fired centers on how the Daily Beast obtained information about a draft OIG report dealing with illegal personal practices by Brian Hook, another high-ranking State Department political appointee. After the article ran, senior Department leadership wanted an investigation into the leak, including the possibility that the draft report leaked from the OIG.
I have to note here, the reporting in the press was all accurate. The IG did not, did find that Mr. Hook engaged in prohibited personnel practices, discriminating against a career employee. He was not disciplined by Secretary Pompeo or Under Secretary for Management Bulatao. He’s still at the Department, despite press reports indicating that he was leaving.
Mr. Bulatao has claimed that Mr. Linick didn’t do what he promised to: to mainly chase down the leak. Mr. Linick’s testimony directly contradicts that in precise detail.
Mr. Bulatao has pointed to the fact that Mr. Linick didn’t, did not turn over the complete findings of the leak investigation—findings that cleared Mr. Linick and his office. Mr. Linick addressed that as well, saying he was concerned that members of the OIG staff named in the report would face retaliation. Well guess what? As soon as the State Department finally got hold of that report, they leaked it to the Daily Caller, names and all. Mr. Linick was no dummy.
We’ll get into more of that later, but Mr. Bulatao, I consider the version of events you laid out in your June 1 letter to be misleading, at best. I urge you to think long and hard if you’re considering repeating those claims here on the record.
And ultimately it will be up to the American people to decide which version of events is more credible.
Did Mr. Pompeo fire his agency’s independent watchdog because of the way he handled the investigation into unproven allegations of a leak in the OIG?
Or did Mr. Pompeo fire him because he was getting closer and closer to matters that were embarrassing for Mr. Pompeo and his family, matters that implicated the State Department in a scheme to bypass Congress and sell lethal weapons that might be used for war crimes?
For me, the IG’s firing fits into something much bigger. Everything we’re looking at: the arms sales, the misuse of resources, the firing of the IG followed by the effort to smear him. The excruciating process of getting the State Department to cooperate with the investigation, this investigation, the constantly shifting conditions and snide letters explaining to Congress how we should conduct oversight, the ad hominem attacks on myself and my staff.
The lies. Mr. Bulatao, we didn’t refuse to hear from you for four months. You wouldn’t take yes for an answer! At first you wanted to brief us. Well, this is an investigation, not a policy concern. We needed information in a formal setting, on the record. Then we had you scheduled to be here in July. Deputy Biegun called me at the last minute—despite the Department’s claims that I refused to speak to him—imploring me to postpone the hearing, which I did. When we tried to reschedule, you moved the goal posts, laying out a laundry list of new conditions. We had to drop requests for all the other witnesses. We had to have a joint hearing with the Oversight Committee. We could only hear from you for two hours.
What this is all about, is that you and Secretary Pompeo apparently think you should be able to do whatever you want and not face accountability or scrutiny of any kind.
Congress is blocking weapon sales? Find a way around.
The IG is looking at how the Secretary spends taxpayer money? Fire him.
The report shows that we made up a phony emergency and didn’t do our due diligence to prevent civilians from being killed? Cover it up. Spin it. Hide it in a classified annex. Redact, redact, redact.
The Foreign Affairs Committee is investigating? Blow them off. Cancel their briefings. Call them names. Tell them we know better.
And you pat yourselves on the back when it’s determined that you technically followed the process laid out in law. More Yemeni children may die, but your scheme to make an end run around Congress wasn’t illegal, strictly speaking. Congratulations.
There is at the highest levels of this State Department a fundamental misunderstanding, as far as I’m concerned, of the way our government is supposed to work, of the way public service is supposed to work. It explains why Mr. Pompeo is potentially facing contempt in this body in which he used to serve. I still hope we’ll find a way to avoid that, but we’ll have to see what happens.
I appreciate everyone’s indulgence. These are complicated matters and it’s more important that our members and those watching understand the whole timeline. We’ve got a lot more to cover.
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