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Democrats expand probe into State Dept. inspector general's firing, plan interviews with Trump officials

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Steve Linick, State Department inspector general, center, exits after closed-door testimony on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019.

Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Democratic lawmakers on Friday announced they will seek interviews with “key officials” as part of an expanded investigation into President Donald Trump’s decision to fire State Department Inspector General Steve Linick.

Trump dismissed Linick in a surprise move on May 15 on a recommendation from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was involved in at least two investigations reportedly being conducted by the watchdog’s office at the time.

“If Secretary Pompeo pushed for Mr. Linick’s dismissal to cover up his own misconduct, that would constitute an egregious abuse of power and a clear attempt to avoid accountability,” three Democratic committee leaders said in a statement Friday. 

“Congress has demanded answers about the abrupt firing of the Inspector General, but Secretary Pompeo has failed to explain his actions,” the Democrats said. “We call upon administration officials to comply and appear for interviews with the Committees, and for Secretary Pompeo to comply with the Committees’ investigation and not obstruct the American people from discovering the truth about his own actions.”

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., House Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said they plan to publicly release transcripts of their interviews “as quickly as possible.” They also vowed to take “further public-facing steps” related to their probe.

“The truth about Mr. Linick’s firing will come out,” they said.

Democrats have demanded Linick’s reinstatement and requested documents from the Trump administration related to Linick’s firing. The administration not yet provided any such documents, the Democrats said Friday.

The State Department did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on the press release.

Pompeo maintains that he was not retaliating against Linick because he was not aware of the investigations being conducted by the inspector general’s office. But he revealed last week that he had previously submitted written responses to questions from the watchdog.

Trump said he had an absolute right to fire Linick. He told House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in a letter that he had lost “confidence” in the watchdog, without providing further explanation. Pelosi later said the firing could be “unlawful” if it was an act of retaliation.

Linick was investigating alleged wrongdoing by Pompeo related to having a political appointee at the department perform personal tasks for him and his wife, Susan Pompeo, NBC News and other outlets have reported. 

Multiple outlets also reported that Linick was nearly done with another probe, this one dealing with Pompeo’s approval of a multibillion-dollar arms sale to Saudi Arabia that bypassed congressional approval.

On Fox News on Thursday night, Pompeo said that he should have recommended Linick’s firing earlier, and added that Linick “was investigating policies he simply didn’t like.”

But the Foreign Affairs Committee tweeted Friday morning that Linick was investigating the arms sale “because we asked him to.”

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