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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

Reprinted with permission from Alternet


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo found himself under fire Wednesday morning as the outrage and questions surrounding the ouster of his department's inspector general continues to grow. And when Pompeo took questions at a press conference about the firing of Steve Linick, he failed to give even a plausible explanation for the termination and even contradicted himself.

Pompeo flat-out admitted that he was behind the firing, saying he recommended the move to President Donald Trump. Trump himself said that he knew nothing of Linick and made the move on Pompeo's recommendation.

"I recommended to the president that Steve Linick be terminated," Pompeo said. "Frankly, should have done it some time ago."

That's important because inspectors general are supposed to be independent watchdogs within their agencies. That's why Pompeo couldn't fire Linick on his own. But if the president will just fire an inspector general whenever a Cabinet secretary asks, it defeats the purpose of having an internal watchdog.

This is especially true in Pompeo's case, because there are multiple reports indicating that Linick was conducting serious investigations of Pompeo's personal conduct and departmental actions. These include allegations that Pompeo inappropriately made department staff perform his personal errands and questions around a dubious emergency declaration that was issued to permit the selling of U.S. arms to Saudi Arabia for its ongoing war with Yemen.

Because of these concerns, Pompeo really had better have a good explanation of why he got Linick fired. But he couldn't come up with one besides the vague claim that Linick was "undermining the department's mission."

Pompeo snidely told a reporter who asked for a better explanation: "Unlike others, I don't talk about personnel matters. I don't leak to y'all. I'll just say this; I can't talk, I can't give you specificity. We'll share with the appropriate people the rationale."

Yet firing the inspector general isn't a mere "personnel matter" — as I stated, it's something Pompeo can't even do himself. It's the removal of a Senate-confirmed official who is supposed to be independent. That is the kind of topic Pompeo should be able to discuss publicly, and his failure to do so only heaps more suspicion on him.

This failure was exacerbated when Pompeo tried to rebut allegations that he was interfering in investigations that related to him.

"There are claims that this was for retaliation, for some investigation that the inspector general's office was engaged in," he said. "It's patently false. I have no sense of what investigations were taking place inside the inspector general's office. Couldn't possibly have retaliated for all the things — I've seen the various stories that someone was walking my dog to sell arms to my dry cleaner. I mean, it's all just crazy! It's all crazy stuff! So I didn't have access to that information, so I couldn't possibly have retaliated. It would have been impossible."

Then he completely contradicted himself and undercut that denial.

"There's one exception," he said. "I was asked a series of questions in writing. I responded to those questions with respect to a particular investigation that was some time earlier this year, best I can recall. I responded to those questions, I don't know the scope, I don't know the nature of that investigation, other than what I would have seen from the nature of the questions that I was presented."

It's hard to know what sense we should make of Pompeo's denials when he contradicts himself within two paragraphs. Retaliation on his part was entirely possible, despite his claims to the contrary. He suggested he answered the questions awhile ago, but then, he also said Linick should have been fired "some time ago." And even if he didn't directly have access to Linick's additional investigations, it's hard to believe he wouldn't get inklings about what other investigations were being conducted as members of his own department are being interviewed.

Throughout the answers he gave, his voice and attitude were dripping with contempt and seemed to be holding back barely contained rage. The arrogance in his demeanor and words was only matched but the fundamental premise of his performance, that we shouldn't assume he fired the IG to quash investigations, even if he refuses to give a plausible alternative explanation.

It's all the more mystifying because Pompeo claimed to have no knowledge about the entire scope of Linick's job — the investigations he was conducting. If the secretary had no clue what the inspector general was working on, how could he have reason to recommend that he be fired at all?

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Former President Donald Trump, left, and former White House counsel Pat Cipollone

On Wednesday evening the House Select Committee investigating the Trump coup plot issued a subpoena to former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, following blockbuster testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who said the lawyer had warned of potential criminal activity by former President Donald Trump and his aides.

The committee summons to Cipollone followed long negotiations over his possible appearance and increasing pressure on him to come forward as Hutchinson did. Committee members expect the former counsel’s testimony to advance their investigation, owing to his knowledge of the former president's actions before, during and after the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

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