June 3, 2020 / 10:28 PM / a month ago

Fired U.S. State Department watchdog confirms probe of Saudi arms sale

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A State Department inspector general abruptly fired by President Donald Trump last month confirmed on Wednesday that he was investigating the declaration of a “national emergency” to justify arms sales to Saudi Arabia when he was dismissed, members of the U.S. Congress said.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. State Department Inspector General Steve Linick departs after briefing House and Senate Intelligence committees at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S. October 2, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

The inspector general, Steve Linick, was fired on May 15, making him the fourth government watchdog dismissed by the Republican president in recent months.

In an interview with members of Congress, Linick also confirmed that he was looking into allegations that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife had misused State Department resources, Representative Eliot Engel, chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee and other Democratic lawmakers said in a statement.

Inspectors general are charged with preventing fraud and abuse. The dismissals prompted concern from Democrats and some of Trump’s fellow Republicans over whether inspectors general would be able to do their work.

Democrats launched an investigation, including Wednesday’s interview by the House Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees and Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The interview was conducted remotely and lasted about seven hours. The committees have promised to release a transcript.

A Republican aide from one of the committees said investigation was continuing but indications to date are that Trump was within his rights to terminate Linick.

In his opening statement, seen by Reuters, Linick defended his seven-year record at State, noting his office issued nearly 700 reports and identified savings of close to $2 billion.

Pompeo has said he asked Trump to fire Linick, although he did not provide a reason for the request.

Members of Congress had said Linick was investigating Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency last year in order to sell arms to Saudi Arabia despite congressional objections, as well as allegations the Pompeos used a taxpayer-funded employee for personal errands.

(This story has been refiled to add dropped word to headline)

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Leslie Adler

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