WASHINGTON - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's treatment of a longtime aide from Kansas who worked for him at the Central Intelligence Agency and then the State Department was under scrutiny by an inspector general recently fired by President Donald Trump, government sources familiar with the matter told McClatchy.
The State Department inspector general, Steve Linick, was looking into the role of Toni Porter, Pompeo's senior adviser, and whether she as a political appointee was conducting Pompeo's personal business on government time, two sources said.
Porter did not register a complaint herself to the inspector general. Rather, the investigation into her role was triggered by multiple complaints on the IG hotline, one of the sources said.
Porter has been in Pompeo's circle since his first campaign for Congress in 2010 and has a reputation as a fiercely loyal aide who is close with the secretary's family and whose job duties run the gamut.
Porter did not return phone calls seeking comment Monday or Tuesday.
One Kansas political source described Porter's role as "some combination of chief of staff and executive assistant."
Linick was investigating a wide range of matters, and it is not immediately clear whether he was reviewing the duties of additional aides who potentially carried out personal tasks for Pompeo. He was also probing the circumstances surrounding an $8 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia last year, according to Democratic lawmakers.
Trump gave Congress notice of his intent to fire Linick on Friday night, at Pompeo's request.
"I went to the president and made clear to him that Inspector General Linick wasn't performing a function in a way that we had tried to get him to," Pompeo told The Washington Post on Monday. "The kinds of activities he's supposed to undertake to make us better, to improve us."
The State Department declined to comment Tuesday on whether Linick was reviewing whether Porter had conducted personal business for Pompeo on government time.
Porter served as Pompeo's Wichita-based district director from 2011 to 2015 when the Republican represented Kansas' 4th Congressional District, which covers Wichita and the surrounding region. She was a frequent presence at events around the district.
After stints with the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce, Porter reunited with Pompeo when he was tapped to serve in the Trump administration in 2017, taking a position as Pompeo's chief of protocol when he became director of the CIA.
Porter was among the people Pompeo thanked by name in a campaign email on the day he resigned from Congress in January 2017 to take the CIA position.
Porter moved with Pompeo to the State Department a year later, serving as a senior adviser.
She has been an important gatekeeper for Pompeo and serves as a conduit for members of the Kansas business and political communities seeking to connect with him. One Kansas Republican source described Porter as Pompeo's ambassador to Kansas for the way she maintains the secretary's relationships in the state.
Porter joined Pompeo during a 2017 homecoming when he addressed the Wichita Rotary Club and she was with the secretary when he addressed business leaders from Kansas and Missouri in Washington last year amid speculation that he would seek retiring Sen. Pat Roberts' seat.
In the immediate aftermath of Linick's firing - the fourth inspector general ousted in six weeks by the president - Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., the House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, and Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, issued a joint statement about Pompeo's role in his removal.
"It is our understanding that he did so because the Inspector General had opened an investigation into wrongdoing by Secretary Pompeo himself," the lawmakers said, launching a congressional probe into the matter.
Serving as inspector general at the State Department since 2013, Linick has a record of probing the roles of close advisers to both Republican and Democratic secretaries. During the Obama administration, he investigated allegations against Huma Abedin, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's closest aide, who was accused of taking overpayments and violating conflicts-of-interests laws.
Democratic congressional aides said that they knew of two investigations under way at the time of Linick's ouster. One inquiry was focused on the alleged misuse of a political aide to conduct personal business for the secretary and his wife, while the second involved an investigation of the Trump administration's use of emergency authorities to expedite the Saudi arms sale.
"I have learned that there may be another reason for Mr. Linick's firing," Engel wrote on Twitter. "His office was investigating - at my request - Trump's phony declaration of an emergency so he could send weapons to Saudi Arabia."
Trump has defended Pompeo and been dismissive of the controversy, asserting his power as president to hire or fire whomever he pleases.
"He's a very brilliant guy," Trump said on Monday, referring to Pompeo, "and now I have you telling me about dog walking, washing dishes - and you know what, I'd rather have him on the phone with some world leader than have him wash dishes because maybe his wife isn't there."
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