Acting watchdog recuses himself from 2 Pompeo probes

The decision is likely to ease some concerns among Democrats.

© Yuri Gripas/Pool via AP Photo  Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

By Nahal Toosi, POLITICO

The State Department’s new acting inspector general has officially recused himself from two high-profile investigations that deal with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s actions and, in one case, those of the secretary’s wife.

The decision is likely to ease some concerns among Democrats and others who worry that the two ongoing probes could be derailed following President Donald Trump’s contentious firing of the department’s inspector general.

But the move is unlikely to lead Democrats to fully trust the new acting inspector general, Stephen Akard, whom they have accused of having too many conflicts of interest and whom they fear will not act as a truly independent watchdog.

Akard informed senior aides in the inspector general’s office earlier this month that he would recuse himself from the two probes, a person familiar with the issue said. A congressional aide confirmed that Akard had recused himself.

One of the probes is about whether Pompeo and his wife, Susan, have improperly used State Department resources for personal reasons, including tasking aides to run private errands. The other is examining Pompeo’s declaration of an emergency to permit arms sales to Saudi Arabia, an effort that sidestepped Congress.

A spokesperson for the inspector general’s office, Sarah Breen, refused to comment for this story despite multiple requests. The department’s main press office did not immediately offer comment. Akard did not reply to an email.

Akard was named to the acting position in mid-May after President Donald Trump, at Pompeo’s request, fired inspector general Steve Linick. Akard is an associate of Vice President Mike Pence and was already in another role at the State Department when given the new job.

Linick’s sudden firing infuriated Democratic lawmakers, who said it was part of a pattern of Trump sidelining government watchdogs. Democrats are leading an investigation into Linick’s ouster, and one of their main goals is figuring out what triggered Pompeo to push for his removal.

Pompeo has dismissed claims that he was trying to derail Linick’s probes, insisting he didn’t know about the investigation into him and wife’s use of resources. The secretary has said that Linick was not a team player at the State Department and had not followed instructions for how to investigate potential leaks from his office. Pompeo has also accused Linick of investigating policies “he simply didn’t like,” while Linick maintains that probing the implementation of policy was well within his mandate.

“The secretary is focused on executing President Trump’s foreign policy priorities to keep America safe,” a State Department spokesperson said when asked to comment for this story.

Linick denies wrongdoing and says he was stunned to be fired; he told Capitol Hill investigators that he could not always participate in activities at the department because it could damage his office’s standing as an independent oversight body. The eventual investigation into the leaks did not find misconduct by his office.

Prior to being named acting inspector general, Akard was running the Office of Foreign Missions at the State Department, a position he has kept even while serving as the new watchdog. OFM’s multiple responsibilities include logistics related to foreign embassies in the United States.

U.S. diplomats, among others, pointed out that as the OFM director, Akard reports to Undersecretary of State for Management Brian Bulatao. Bulatao is a longtime personal friend and former business partner of Pompeo’s who played a key role in ousting Linick.

State Department staffers, speaking on condition of anonymity, argued that Akard cannot serve as an independent overseer of the department if he retains his OFM role and keeps reporting to Bulatao.

In a letter to top Democrats nearly three weeks ago, Akard said he had “stepped away” from the OFM role and “will not exercise the authorities or duties” associated with that position while he’s in the inspector general’s office.

Lawmakers insisted that was not enough and that Akard should officially resign from the OFM job.

Akard also told lawmakers that he will recuse himself from “matters involving individuals with whom I have a personal relationship such that my objectivity could be impaired.” He further promised that the inspector general’s office “will continue its audits, inspections, evaluations, and investigations.”

Read more at POLITICO


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item News | Breaking News, US News, World News: Acting watchdog recuses himself from 2 Pompeo probes
Acting watchdog recuses himself from 2 Pompeo probes
The decision is likely to ease some concerns among Democrats. News | Breaking News, US News, World News
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