Secretary of State Michael Pompeo testifies Thursday during a Senate Foreign Relations committee hearing at Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/UPI | License Photo
July 30 (UPI) -- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended his inspector general ouster and the Trump administration's approach to Russia during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Thursday.
A hearing was called on proposed massive cuts in President Donald Trump's budget request for the State Department, but senators used the moment to press Pompeo on foreign policy matters, Politico reported.
Citing classification concerns, Pompeo refused to answer specifically whether he's pressed his Russian counterparts on allegations that Moscow is offering bounties to the Taliban to kill U.S. soldiers.
More broadly, Pompeo said that the State Department raised all issues of concern with Russia.
"I can assure you and the American people that each time I've spoken with [Russian Foreign Minister Sergey] Lavrov, I have raised all of the issues that put any American interests at risk, whether it's our soldiers on the ground in Syria, soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan, the activities that are taking place in Libya, the actions in Ukraine," Pompeo said at Thursday's hearing.
Pompeo also said that the administration has sanctioned prominent Russians, among other measures that have been taken to protect the United States against Kremlin disinformation efforts.
Senators also questioned his decision to fire State Department Inspector General Steve Linick in May, who was overseeing two investigations that involved Pompeo's behavior.
Pompeo said Thursday that he was only aware of one of Linick's probes into his decision to push through an arms sale to Saudi Arabia despite congressional resistance. The other investigation looked into whether he and his wife, Susan, improperly used State Department resources to do personal chores for them.
He added that the firing was because Linick was not doing his job well and failed to support the State Department's mission and properly monitor the department's finances.
Pompeo also clashed with lawmakers on the Trump administration's decision to withdraw 12,000 troops from Germany.
Sen. Robert Menendez, D- N.J., said that the troop withdrawal "abetted" Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Pompeo rejected that the administration has helped Putin in any way.
Still, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said that Russia was the only country that "publicly supported" the removal of troops from Germany.
In response, Pompeo said that U.S. troops would be "fully available" for redeployment if necessary.
Menendez also took several other jabs at Pompeo, including pointing out a number of vacancies in key positions in the State Department.
"The best people don't seem to want to work for you," Menendez said at the hearing.
In response, Pompeo criticized Democratic senators who he said have put hold on nominees for vacant slots, but Democrats have said that the nominees are unqualified or flawed.
In another critique of Pompeo, Menendez said that Iran "is much closer to a nuclear bomb than when you came into office."
Menendez also said that Pompeo's "maximum pressure campaign" has failed to stop Iran's aggressive actions in the Middle East.
Republican senators mostly defended the Trump administration's foreign policy with the exception of Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who criticized the troop withdrawal in Germany.
Romney added that he had heard "from the highest levels of the German government" that the decision was viewed as an insult to a significant ally.