Late Friday night, Donald Trump fired the inspector general for the State Department, the fourth such firing in the last six weeks. The question, of course, is why the president took such a step.
According to the White House, Steve Linick was ousted because Trump "no longer" had full confidence in the IG. Officials added that it was Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who recommended the firing, and the president agreed.
NBC News reported that Linick was examining whether Pompeo "made a staffer walk his dog, pick up his dry cleaning and make dinner reservations for Pompeo and his wife, among other personal errands," which may have had something to do with his dismissal. It raised the awkward possibility of a powerful cabinet secretary misusing official resources, facing an investigation, and urging the president to fire the investigator.
But that's not the only possible explanation. The Washington Post's Greg Sargent highlighted another angle of interest:
House Democrats have discovered that the fired IG had mostly completed an investigation into Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's widely criticized decision to skirt Congress with an emergency declaration to approve billions of dollars in arms sales to Saudi Arabia last year, aides on the Foreign Affairs Committee tell me.
NBC News had a similar report this morning.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), who's earned a reputation as a very cautious lawmaker, said in a statement, "I have learned that there may be another reason for Mr. Linick's firing. His office was investigating -- at my request -- Trump's phony declaration of an emergency so he could send weapons to Saudi Arabia."
Greg's report added, "Committee Democrats have also learned that the State Department was recently briefed on the IG's conclusions in that investigation, aides say. They do not know what role this investigation -- and its conclusions -- played in Linick's removal, if any."
In case anyone needs a refresher on the Saudi Arabia story, let's circle back to our coverage from almost exactly a year ago.
In a historic use of the War Powers Resolution last April, both the Democratic-led House and Republican-led Senate voted to end American involvement in the war in Yemen, defying Trump's wishes, and curtailing U.S. support for Saudi Arabia's intervention in the conflict.
A month later, the Trump administration decided to move forward anyway with an arms sale worth roughly $8 billion for Saudi Arabia and its allies in the United Arab Emirates. It was, officials claimed at the time, a national security "emergency."
(The announcement came on a Friday afternoon ahead of a holiday weekend. Team Trump does love its news dumps.)
The evidence to support the claim of an "emergency" was hard to find, and more than a few lawmakers cried foul. If today's reporting is correct, the State Department's inspector general's office took a closer look into the deal -- and the administration's willingness to circumvent Congress.
The mess is likely to receive quite a bit of congressional scrutiny, at least in the Democratic-led House, and it's a burgeoning controversy worth keeping an eye on.