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Embroiled in controversy, Mike Pompeo does himself no favors

It's almost as if Mike Pompeo believes there's a contest underway to be The Worst Secretary of State Ever, and he's in it to win it.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a press briefing at the State Department on May 20, 2020, in Washington.Nicholas Kamm / Pool via AP

It's been six days since Donald Trump fired the State Department's inspector general at the behest of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and it's probably fair to say the Republican team hasn't enjoyed the week.

Since the president's Friday night news dump, we learned that Pompeo was under investigation for misusing federal personnel. And for circumventing Congress on a dubious arms deal with Saudi Arabia. And quite possibly for a series of secret gatherings in which the Kansas Republican was "essentially using federal resources to cultivate a donor and supporter base for Pompeo's political ambitions."

The editorial board of the Kansas City Star opined today, "Even in a town built on a swamp, this is one bold hustle."

Watching his reputation burn, Pompeo yesterday openly mocked the allegations against him as "crazy stuff," reality notwithstanding. But as part of a State Department briefing, the cabinet secretary embroiled in controversy also made an unfortunate admission. As a Washington Post analysis noted:

Pompeo's defense basically boiled down to this: [The firing of the State Department's inspector general] couldn't possibly have been retaliation, because I didn't know what he was investigating. Except then Pompeo acknowledged that he might well have known that he was under investigation.

Quite right. Almost immediately after suggesting he didn't know he was facing a probe from his own agency's watchdog, Pompeo acknowledged that he was aware of IG Steve Linick's investigation of the administration's suspicious Saudi Arabian arms deal, which Pompeo was directly involved in last year.

"There's one exception: I was asked a series of questions in writing," Pompeo said. "I responded to those questions with respect to a particular investigation.... I don't know the scope. I don't know the nature of that investigation -- of what I would have seen from the nature of the questions that I was presented."

In other words, the nation's chief diplomat couldn't have retaliated against an inspector general because he didn't know he was under investigation -- except for the investigation that he was very much aware of.

Making matters worse, the probe of the Saudi arms deal wasn't likely to go well for Pompeo. Politico reported overnight:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo disregarded the advice of high-level officials at the State Department, Pentagon and within the intelligence community in invoking an emergency waiver last year to circumvent congressional review of billions of dollars in arms sales to the U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf region, according to two former administration officials and three congressional sources.

Pompeo told Congress, in writing, that the arms deal was necessary -- without lawmakers' approval -- because of "Iranian aggression" and "increasing regional volatility." But Politico's report added that "high-level career and political officials from the Pentagon, State Department and intelligence community" disagreed with the cabinet secretary's assessment.

It reinforces concerns that Pompeo and Trump made up a false pretense to circumvent Congress and advance an arms deal that lawmakers opposed.

As for the State Department's inspector general's office, that remains a mess, too. Linick's dismissal isn't effective until 30 days after the White House's announcement, but he's reportedly been told that he is "physically barred from returning to the State Department even to collect his belongings, complicating his ability to finish his work."

And in case that weren't quite enough, Linick's successor as IG, Stephen Akard, is already an employee at the cabinet agency, working as the head of the State Department's Office of Foreign Missions -- a job he reportedly intends to keep under Pompeo's plan, creating an obvious conflict of interest.

It's almost as if Pompeo believes there's a contest underway to be The Worst Secretary of State Ever, and he's in it to win it.

Update: After I published, I discovered that Slate had a related item yesterday that noted a striking anecdote: "A friend of the family told me that when Susan Pompeo visited her mother in Lafayette, Louisiana, [State Department] security officials were ordered to pick her up at the airport. Last June, they were told to pack up the house in Lafayette and cart away boxes when her mother prepared to move to a retirement home in Overland Park, Kansas."

This hasn't been confirmed independently, though it seems like the sort of thing House Democrats might pursue as an oversight matter.