Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told critics of his decision to fire State Department Inspector General (IG) Steve Linick, “Frankly, I should have done it some time ago.” Pompeo would not specify how Linick undermined the department’s mission, the stated reason for his firing. It becomes obvious, however, when we look at the damage Linick did to the Bureau of International Organizations beginning three years ago, just as it was investigating the Chinese United Nations stranglehold.
Assistant Secretary of State Kevin Moley, the State Department’s top diplomat in charge of international organization affairs, quietly retired from public service last November, after five decades. This came after two years of Linick’s prying, if not outright hostility, helped by the president’s Democratic opponents on Capitol Hill, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y.
The campaign against Moley, former U.S. ambassador to the UN in Geneva, and his senior adviser, Mari Stull, began in April 2018 shortly after he was called out of retirement to assume his responsibilities at State Department headquarters. So poor was the state of the bureau when Moley and Stull arrived, that when they asked for a comprehensive list of Chinese-occupied UN positions, trust funds, and other influences within international institutions, career staffers recoiled, dragged their feet for three months, and presented a one-page response.
Moley, a former enlisted Marine who earned the Purple Heart in Vietnam, stayed calm under fire. He and Stull continued pressing for UN reform against Chinese intrusion, implementing a new strategy to counter Chinese influence.
Moley oversaw U.S. withdrawal from the Human Rights Council and UNESCO, and defunded the UN Relief and Works Agency because the organization was corrupted by special interests. He reduced U.S. assessments to the UN, penalized UN agencies for violating whistleblower rules, and increased transparency by declassifying reports on Palestinian “rights of return.” Also offensive to Moley critics, he faithfully enacted the president’s pro-life foreign policy.
Linick Takes Action Against Moley
This is the legacy of an effective leader carrying out the policies of the secretary of state and the president who appointed him. For that, Moley should have been commended, but instead, resistance to his important reforms was swift, and Linick began his investigation.
Moley’s most senior foreign service officer, the principal deputy assistant, who had occupied Moley’s position in an acting capacity before he arrived, acted as Linick’s watchdog in the bureau. When Moley stopped the senior staffer’s practice of wheeling out the liquor cart mid-afternoon on Fridays to conduct “vespers” for bureau staff, and did not support other practices he deemed unprofessional, the staffer quit and moved up to the management office, which was alongside Linick’s.
It wasn’t long before several news outlets fired a series of what would be regular rounds at Moley and Stull, citing “anonymously” leaked grievances by a senior diplomat. Menendez and the late Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., cited the news stories as reason for Linick’s IG investigation, ostensibly based on the existence of a “loyalty list” Stull used to “retaliate” against the senior staffer and other personnel.
Stull repeatedly denied such list, a fact proved after a year and a half of Linick’s investigation and several Freedom of Information Act requests. Linick’s investigation, published last October, was devoid of any evidence Moley acted wrongly.
Instead, Linick called for “corrective” action against Moley, claiming a senior staffer and others had left the bureau due to his management “style,” a charge Moley and Stull flatly denied. Linick’s report cited wafting “appearances,” “concern,” and “perception” of poor leadership in lieu of evidence. Moreover, Linick acknowledged Moley was within his purview in making personnel decisions.
Linick Weaponized His Position
The hounding continued with mutable justification, similar to the Robert Mueller investigation against the president and prosecution of Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. Media criticism and Democrats’ calls for yet another IG investigation ensued. Moley and Stull decided it was time to move out of the way for the good of the bureau. The combat-decorated Marine, a veteran of the two Bush administrations, announced his retirement Nov. 29, his 50th wedding anniversary.
By using his position to settle policy disputes, Linick undermined U.S. foreign affairs at a critical time. Moley was confirmed by the Senate, and was charged with and responsible for implementing strategy to counter Chinese influence at the UN. If he had not been undermined by unwarranted investigations, the United States could well have been in a stronger position when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and Chinese influence hampered the World Health Organization’s response, to the detriment of medical professionals and at the cost of human lives around the world.
Moley and Stull were casualties of a cynical use of one of America’s most coveted attributes, the idea that no one is above the law. The purpose of appointing inspectors general is to ensure the tenet is fairly applied. Instead of guarding this public trust, Linick weaponized it. His actions sowed, or at least did nothing to mend, suspicion between career staff and political appointees at a time the country depends upon that trust.