Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday rejected allegations that he recommended the firing of State Department Inspector General Steve Linick as retaliation for an investigation, calling the idea "patently false" while defending Linick's ouster.
Pompeo noted that the president has the right to fire an inspector general, and doubled down on his own recommendation to Trump that he fire Linick.
"All of us serve at the pleasure of the President of the United States," Pompeo said. "In this case, I recommended to the president that Steve Linick be terminated. Frankly, should have done it some time ago."
The secretary refused to get into his reasoning for recommending Linick's firing, claiming that "unlike others I don’t talk about personnel matters." He did say that he would share his rationale with "the appropriate people."
Reports have swirled that at the time of the termination, Linick was investigating whether Pompeo ordered a staff member to perform personal tasks for him such as walking his dog and getting his dry cleaning, as well as the circumstances surrounding President Trump's emergency order that allowed for the sale of billions of dollars worth of weapons to countries including Saudia Arabia.
"Let’s be clear, there are claims that this was for retaliation for some investigation the Inspector General's office was engaged in," Pompeo acknowledged. “This is patently false. I have no sense of what investigations were taking place inside the Inspector General's office."
Pompeo said he had heard stories "like someone was walking my dog to sell arms to my dry cleaner," which appeared to be a conflation of two separate reports.
"It's all crazy stuff," he said. "I didn't have access to that information so I couldn't possibly have retaliated. It would have been impossible."
Pompeo did note one exception, where he responded to written questions as part of an investigation earlier this year, but he said he is not aware of the nature, scope or current status of that probe.
The secretary then called into question the source of reports about these investigations, which he said was the office of Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"This is all coming through the office of Senator Menendez," Pompeo said. "I don’t get my ethics guidance from a man who was criminally prosecuted."
Menendez had faced corruption charges in the past. After a jury could not reach a decision at trial, a judge acquitted Menendez of several charges, and the Justice Department dismissed the rest of the case in January 2018.