Linick told lawmakers that he was shocked by his removal, which came abruptly on May 15. He said he had just concluded a coronavirus briefing with staffers that morning when Undersecretary Brian Bulatao and Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun, senior aides to Pompeo, asked him for a meeting.
“The deputy said to me: The president decided to exercise his power to remove you,” Linick recalled.
Linick was then placed on administrative leave, losing access to his office and files. He was allowed back in the following day, with an escort, to reclaim his personal effects.
Linick’s interview is the first in an ongoing review by congressional Democrats into allegations that Pompeo sought the watchdog’s removal to blunt the ongoing reviews of his conduct.
The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Trump told reporters he removed Linick at Pompeo’s request, but he provided no details about the rationale, despite a legal requirement to do so. His letter to Congress, required by law, simply stated that he had lost confidence in Linick. He later told reporters he had no knowledge of Linick or his performance — only that he had been appointed to the post by President Barack Obama.
Linick noted that the State Department informed Congress that the reviews were still ongoing, but he acknowledged that his successor, acting inspector general Stephan Akard, would have discretion over whether to continue it and how many resources to put into it. Akard has raised flags on Capitol Hill on both sides of the aisle because he is retaining his position as a senior State Department aide, in addition to the acting inspector general role. That dual-hatted position could jeopardize whistleblower protections or other confidential information that would normally be shared with the inspector general’s office, lawmakers have warned.
Much of Linick’s interview focused on allegations by Pompeo aides that Linick was suspected in the 2019 leak of an internal review to The Daily Beast, one that accused senior State Department officials of exacting political retaliation on some employees. Linick and a slew of his senior aides were ultimately cleared by the Pentagon inspector general, who he tapped to conduct the review.
The report of that investigation was provided to lawmakers, and Republicans raised questions about whether it was thorough enough and whether the Pentagon watchdog, Glenn Fine, was a neutral investigator. Fine was demoted by Trump in April after he was tapped by colleagues to monitor the federal coronavirus response. He resigned from his post last month.
Linick accused Bulatao, in particular, of “bullying” him and said he had never been given any indication that his performance was in question. Though Trump needs no cause to remove an inspector general, Linick said he never got any explanation for why the president might have lost confidence in him.
Linick also recounted his role in providing documents to Congress during the House’s late-2019 impeachment inquiry and said he had been unaware that the files he turned over were the only ones provided by the State Department to lawmakers during that inquiry.
“When the impeachment proceedings started and the issues began concerning the whistleblower and so forth, I realized I was sitting on documents that might be relevant to that, and, in accordance with my obligations and to make sure that the right folks had the documents, I provided them to the Hill,” Linick said.