Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is smart enough to know that auditors and inspectors general aren't appointed to advance a political mission or make the boss look good. Their job is to ferret out waste, corruption and misspending. But as State Department Inspector General Steve Linick reportedly was investigating potential abuses of office by Pompeo himself, Linick got the boot on Friday.
Pompeo's ego is surpassed in this administration perhaps only by his boss. He and President Donald Trump hate having their judgment questioned. Pompeo's ferocity went embarrassingly on public display in January when he lashed out at National Public Radio after a co-host asked questions in an interview that Pompeo deemed unauthorized.
Linick was pursuing leads on two different fronts. One involved Pompeo's "emergency" authorization of $7.5 billion in military sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, bypassing a congressional hold. Linick also was investigating complaints that Pompeo was using State Department staffers to perform personal errands for Pompeo and his wife.
The New York Times described errands such as picking up the family dog from a groomer and having diplomatic security agents pick up restaurant takeout meals. Pompeo also used government aircraft for personal trips to Kansas when he was weighing a possible Senate election bid.
If Linick's firing by Trump, at Pompeo's request, was in retaliation for any of these probes, Pompeo deserves a lot of uncomfortable legal scrutiny. Even leading Republicans on Capitol Hill are expressing concerns about potential violations of federal law. Why have inspectors if they can be fired because their investigations make the president or other senior officials look bad?
In a Washington Post interview Monday, Pompeo insisted he was "not briefed" on Linick's investigation. Pompeo is very careful with his words. "Not briefed" doesn't mean he didn't know what Linick's investigation entailed. It means no one formally sat down to give him the details in an official setting.
Linick and other State Department inspectors general have, without partisan favor, been responsible for exposing tens of billions of dollars in waste and fraud during the past two decades. Linick, a veteran of Republican and Democratic administrations, issued an embarrassing report in May 2016 outlining then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's decision to route official emails through a personal server in the basement of her home.
The track record here is doubly troubling considering Trump's insistence that he retain the ability to fire inspectors monitoring how he dispenses aid under a $2 trillion pandemic-relief package approved by Congress in late March. Congress should close this firing loophole to make inspectors general truly independent of the officials they're assigned to investigate.
Previous administrations have respected inspectors' independence as a necessary function of democracy. Why does this administration bristle at the idea of transparency and accountability like it's an anesthesia-free root canal?
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