President Trump confirmed on Monday that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo requested that he remove State Department inspector general Steve Linick, but insisted that he doesn't know Linick or specifically why Pompeo wanted him gone.
What he's saying: "I offered most of my people, almost all of them — I said, you know these are Obama appointees. If you'd like to let them go, I think you should let them go. ... I said who appointed him? They said President Obama. I said, look, I'll terminate him. I don't know what's going on other than that."
- "I would have suggested, and I did suggest, in pretty much all cases, you get rid of the [inspectors general] because it happens to be very political whether you like it or not."
- "I don't know anything about him other than the State Department and Mike in particular — I guess they were not happy with the job he's doing or something. Because it is my right to do it, I said sure, I'll do it."
Why it matters: Democrats have launched an investigation into Linick's removal, claiming that he was investigating Pompeo for misusing State Department staff to run personal errands. Pompeo argued on Monday that it's impossible that the move was retaliation because he didn't even know Linick was investigating him.
- House Foreign Affairs Chair Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) revealed Monday that Linick was also investigating the Trump administration's effort to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia without approval from Congress.
- Trump said he didn't know anything about the Saudi issue and suggested that Pompeo's alleged misuse of agency staff is unimportant: "They're bothered because he's having someone walk his dog? ... Here's a man who's supposed to be negotiating war and peace."
The big picture: Inspectors general are independent watchdogs that are viewed as critical for limiting fraud, waste, misconduct and mismanagement at government agencies.
- The confrontational nature of their job sometimes causes tension with presidents and agency heads, but Trump has made it a mission to purge career officials that he views as members of the "deep state" seeking to undermine him.
- The president has sought to remove four inspectors general over the past six weeks.