A US government watchdog fired suddenly by President Donald Trump was investigating Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a Democratic politician has said.
The ousting led to heavy criticism from senior Democrats, including House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Congressman Eliot Engel accused the president of committing a potentially illegal act of retribution. Mr Trump sacked State Department Inspector General Steve Linick late last night in his latest abrupt dismissal of an official tasked with monitoring wrongdoing inside a government agency.
Mr Engel, who heads the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he had learned that Mr Linick had opened an investigation into Pompeo.
“Mr Linick’s firing amid such a probe strongly suggests that this is an unlawful act of retaliation,” Mr Engel said in a statement.
A Democratic congressional aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Mr Linick was probing complaints that Mr Pompeo misused a political appointee to perform personal tasks for himself and his wife.
Washington’s top diplomat has raised eyebrows for frequently traveling the world on his government plane with his wife Susan Pompeo, who has no official role.
CNN reported last year that a whistleblower had complained that Diplomatic Security, which guards US missions overseas as well as the secretary of state, had been assigned questionable tasks for the Pompeos such as picking up the family dog and takeout food.
The State Department confirmed Mr Linick’s firing but did not comment on the reason or on whether Pompeo was under investigation.