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Facing difficult questions, Pompeo's scandal defense unravels

In a normal political environment, today would be the day Pompeo writes a brief, polite letter expressing his desire to spend more time with his family.
President Donald J. Trump
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a briefing in response to the coronavirus pandemic at The White House on April 8, 2020.Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Images file

Last week, Donald Trump fired State Department Inspector General Steve Linick -- late on a Friday night -- because Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asked him to. It wasn't long before this turned into a legitimate scandal: Pompeo was under investigation by the same official he told the president to fire.

By way of a defense, the Republican cabinet secretary and his team have come up with three main talking points. The first is that Linick wasn't a team player and failed to follow Pompeo's lead. Since the inspector general is an independent watchdog, this argument is effectively self-defeating.

The second argument is that there were some kind of leaks from within the State Department last year, but since there's no evidence Linick had anything to do with them, this too is a dud.

But perhaps most important was Pompeo's central defense: it's "simply not possible for this to be an act of retaliation," he told the Washington Post, because he didn't know he was under investigation.

Yeah, about that...

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declined an interview request for the State Department inspector general's inquiry into whether the Trump administration acted illegally in declaring an "emergency" to bypass a congressional freeze on arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, according to three people with knowledge of his actions.

According to the New York Times' report, the cabinet secretary chose to "answer written questions from investigators working for the inspector general," which "indicates that the secretary of state was aware of Mr. Linick's investigation and the specific lines of questioning."

In case this weren't quite enough, NBC News published a striking report overnight on Pompeo hosting a series of elaborate and unpublicized "Madison Dinners" at the State Department, with elite guest lists featuring "billionaire CEOs, Supreme Court justices, political heavyweights and ambassadors."

The soirees -- paid for by taxpayers and held in a public building -- led State Department officials to ring the alarm, and for good reason. The NBC News report added that these officials saw these gatherings as "essentially using federal resources to cultivate a donor and supporter base for Pompeo's political ambitions -- complete with extensive contact information that gets sent back to Susan Pompeo's personal email address."

It's tempting to include a "but her emails" joke here, but I'm above such things.

NBC News' report went on to note that these dinners have sparked inquiries on Capitol Hill, but the White House may not have fully been aware of what Pompeo has been up to.

In the opinion of a senior Trump administration official who requested anonymity out of concern for retribution, "if the president knew about any of this, he would have fired Pompeo months ago."

In a normal political environment, today would be the day Mike Pompeo wrote a brief, polite letter expressing his desire to spend more time with his family.