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Ousted Watchdog Says State Dept. Official Pressured Him to End Inquiry Into Pompeo

WASHINGTON — The former State Department inspector general who was ousted by President Trump told Congress on Wednesday that a top department official tried to “bully” him as he examined potential misconduct at the agency, according to top Democratic lawmakers.

Steve A. Linick, who was fired as inspector general last month, testified that Brian Bulatao, the under secretary of state for management, had “pressured him to act in ways” that he felt were “inappropriate,” the Democrats said. That included telling Mr. Linick that he should not pursue his investigation into whether the administration had unlawfully declared an “emergency” last year to allow the resumption of weapons sales to Saudi Arabia.

The revelation heightens the scrutiny on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who recommended that the president fire Mr. Linick, and who was at the heart of two investigations led by the inspector general’s office — the Saudi arms deal and another examining the potential misuse of a political appointee for personal errands. It also casts an unwelcome spotlight on Mr. Bulatao, who is one of Mr. Pompeo’s closest friends.

Mr. Linick testified voluntarily before Democratic and Republican lawmakers and their aides as part of an expanding inquiry opened by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

“We still have many unanswered questions,” Democratic lawmakers said in a joint statement, “and today’s testimony makes it all the more critical that the administration immediately comply with outstanding requests for additional witness interviews and documents.”

Mr. Bulatao told Mr. Linick that whether the administration acted illegally to bypass a congressional freeze on arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates was not a matter for his office to investigate, Democrats said. Mr. Linick also told lawmakers that Mr. Pompeo and other top State Department officials had been aware of both investigations into the department, rebutting claims that were previously made by Mr. Pompeo.

The State Department did not reply to a request for comment on Wednesday night. Representatives of Mr. Linick did not return a request for comment or for more information.

Mr. Bulatao and Mr. Pompeo attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point together in the 1980s, and Mr. Bulatao has followed Mr. Pompeo to posts in both the private sector and government, first at Thayer Aerospace and then the C.I.A. when Mr. Pompeo was appointed director of the agency. In an interview with Politico last year, Mr. Pompeo described Mr. Bulatao as one of his “longest best friends in the whole world,” adding that Mr. Bulatao’s post at the State Department posed “an opportunity for us to serve together, which is really pretty special.”

Mr. Linick also confirmed that Mr. Pompeo declined an interview request for the inspector general’s inquiry into the Saudi arms sale, as previously reported by The New York Times.

Mr. Trump defended the decision to fire Mr. Linick, arguing that he has “the absolute right as president to terminate,” but said he acted on Mr. Pompeo’s recommendation. Mr. Pompeo has defended the ouster, saying it was “patently false” that he was retaliating against Mr. Linick as a result of his investigations into his department. He has not indicated why he advised the president to fire Mr. Linick but has denounced Democrats’ investigation.

“I’ve seen the various stories that someone was walking my dog to sell arms to my dry cleaner,” he said last month in response to journalists’ questions at the State Department. “It’s all just crazy. It’s all crazy stuff.”

Part of the public scrutiny over Mr. Pompeo centers on whether he is using State Department funds to help build a political network for a potential presidential campaign in 2024. Mr. Pompeo has quietly visited with Republican donors and political figures on diplomatic trips, leaving those meetings off his public schedule.

Edward Wong contributed reporting.

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