Pompeo tears into Engel in escalation of battle over IG firing

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tore into House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., over the committee’s investigation into the firing of former State Department Inspector General Steve Linick — while offering a high-ranking department official to testify in his defense on the matter.

Pompeo, in two letters dated Thursday, said that the chairman made a “nasty insinuation” that was “clearly misleading” when he suggested that Pompeo recommended President Trump fire Linick because of Linick’s “ongoing investigation into allegations of misuse of government resources” by Pompeo and his wife.

Pompeo said that he would offer Under Secretary of State for Management Brian Bulato’s testimony on June 22 or June 23 which would “unambiguously refute your incorrect assertions.” He also, in a veiled reference to tough primary challenge Engel is facing, alleged that Engel has been absent in the investigation and has been letting his staff handle the matter.

FIRED STATE DEPARTMENT WATCHDOG SAYS HE WAS GIVEN ‘NO VALID REASON’ FOR HIS REMOVAL

“I hear you’ve been busy in your District, so let me get you up to speed on what’s been going on in your Committee,” Pompeo wrote in one letter. “Last night, your staff informed us you personally declined to speak” to two different officials the State Department had offered to refute testimony from Linick and “you asked your staff to have this conversation on your behalf.”

Pompeo added: “I regret that you, someone for whom I have great respect, have let your staff take over this historically significant, non-partisan committee.”

Engel days ago was caught on a hot mic at a news conference about the unrest in his Bronx district saying that he “wouldn’t care” about not being allowed to speak at the event if he wasn’t in a primary race. And fellow New York Democrat Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has endorsed Engel’s primary challenger.

Steve Linick, then-State Department Inspector General, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on Dec. 10, 2014. President Donald Trump removed Linick from his job on Friday, May 15, 2020, but gave no reason for his ouster. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

Steve Linick, then-State Department Inspector General, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on Dec. 10, 2014. President Donald Trump removed Linick from his job on Friday, May 15, 2020, but gave no reason for his ouster. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

GRASSLEY ASKS TRUMP FOR ‘EXPLANATION’ ON FIRING OF TOP STATE DEPT. WATCHDOG TO ENSURE IT’S NOT FOR ‘POLITICAL REASONS’

In a separate letter, Pompeo directly addressed the allegation that he asked for Linick’s firing to stymie an investigation into himself.

“Rather, my recommendation to the president was based on Mr. Linick’s failure to properly perform his duties over a series of months,” Pompeo wrote. Pompeo also alleged Linick exhibited “strange and erratic behavior in connection with the Defense Department Inspector General’s leak investigation of Mr. Linick and his office.”

Linick testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee behind closed doors last week and described being “shocked” to learn of his firing.

“I was completely taken by surprise,” Linick told investigators, noting that he had just conducted a town hall with his staff about the coronavirus. “I was in a state of shock because I had not been — I had no advance notice of anything like that.”

Linick said that he was given no reason for the removal. The president is required by law to provide a reason for firing inspectors general, which are internal government watchdogs, to Congress.

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Trump has not done that in the case of Linick and other inspectors general he recently fired, leading Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, to hold up two of Trump’s key appointments until the president does so.

Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun, who Linick said was the person who notified him of his firing, also sent Engel a letter Wednesday. It said that the Foreign Affairs Committee’s conclusion that Pompeo was aware of Linick’s investigation into he and his wife is “entirely false.”

“We can confirm unequivocally that, to the extent that any one of us were made aware of any ‘investigation’ of this nature, none of us briefed Secretary Pompeo on, or otherwise discussed with him, this purported ‘investigation’ at any time before the President removed Mr. Linick from his position,” Biegun said.

Fox News’ Brooke Singman and Morgan Phillips contributed to this report.  

Tyler Olson covers politics for FoxNews.com. You can contact him at tyler.olson@foxnews.com and follow him on Twitter at @TylerOlson1791.