WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declined an interview request for the State Department inspector general’s inquiry into whether the Trump administration acted illegally in declaring an “emergency” to bypass a congressional freeze on arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, according to three people with knowledge of his actions.
That indicates that the secretary of state was aware of Mr. Linick’s investigation and the specific lines of questioning about Mr. Pompeo’s decision last year to resume the sales of bombs and other weapons, which had been stalled since 2017. Saudi Arabia has led Persian Gulf nations in an air war in Yemen that has resulted in large numbers of civilian deaths.
It is still not clear why Mr. Linick was dismissed. He was also pursuing inquiries into whether Mr. Pompeo was improperly asking a State Department employee to run errands for him and his wife. And a senior department official and longtime friend of the secretary, Brian Bulatao, told The Washington Post that Mr. Pompeo was concerned that Mr. Linick was not aggressively tracking down past leaks to news organizations about what he was investigating.
Some officials say that it may have been a combination of issues, rather than any single investigation, that led to the dismissal of Mr. Linick, one of four inspectors general Mr. Trump has fired or demoted in recent weeks.
The State Department has declined to comment publicly about Mr. Linick’s investigation into the arms sales or provide any detail about its scope. But the push by Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Trump to resume the sales, especially after the killing of the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, was opposed by some lawmakers from both parties and was highly controversial among some Foreign Service officers, who argued that Mr. Trump’s desire to win arms sales for American contractors was overriding human rights protections.
Mr. Pompeo said he usually did not become aware of inspector general reports until a few days before they were released publicly. But that was clearly not the case in the investigation into the Saudi arms decision. That report still has not been released, though employees from the inspector general’s office briefed senior State Department officials on a draft version in early March.
It is not clear if the final report will be critical of the legal maneuvers the Trump administration carried out to restore sales to the Saudis and Emiratis.
Cabinet secretaries sometimes try to avoid interviews with inspectors general, preferring the more controlled route of providing written responses. That allows them to turn the process over to lawyers to help shape the answers.
Representative Eliot L. Engel, Democrat of New York, who is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, had asked last June for the inspector general to start an investigation into the arms sales. Mr. Engel said on Monday that the inquiry might have been “another reason” that Mr. Pompeo recommended to Mr. Trump that he fire Mr. Linick. Mr. Trump notified Congress on Friday of the firing, starting a 30-day review period on the president’s action as Mr. Linick prepares to leave.
Mr. Linick was also investigating separately the potential misuse by Mr. Pompeo of a political appointee at the State Department to perform personal errands for him and his wife, Susan Pompeo, that included walking the family dog, Sherman; picking up dry cleaning; and making restaurant reservations, a Democratic aide said. Questions over possible misuse of taxpayer funds by Mr. Pompeo, including on frequent trips aboard department aircraft to his adopted home state, Kansas, have dogged the secretary for more than a year.
Mr. Pompeo has denied any wrongdoing in most instances.
When asked by The Post about Mr. Linick’s inquiry into the potential misuse of a State Department employee, Mr. Pompeo said he had been unaware of it. But he avoided answering a question on whether he had ever engaged in such activity, saying, “I’m not going to answer the host of unsubstantiated allegations about any of that.”
Mr. Linick has served in his position since 2013 and has a reputation as being careful, competent and nonpartisan. But he was clearly not viewed that way among the State Department leadership, which believes he took aim at Mr. Trump’s appointees. They were particularly incensed by a report last year about the treatment of an Iranian-American official in the department, who argued that her removal from her job reflected bias by political appointees. Senior State Department officials insisted she was moved because she was not competent.
The inspector general’s office has hundreds of employees who investigate potential cases of fraud and waste at the department. Last year, Mr. Linick issued another report that criticized senior political appointees at the agency, and he also played a minor role in the impeachment inquiry into Mr. Trump. In 2016, he issued a report harshly criticizing Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state, for her use of a private email server.