Democrats demanded on Saturday that the White House hand over all records related to President Donald Trump’s latest firing of a federal watchdog, this time at the State Department, and they suggested Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was responsible, in what “may be an illegal act of retaliation.”
“We unalterably oppose the politically-motivated firing of inspectors general and the President’s gutting of these critical positions,” the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee wrote in a letter to the administration announcing their investigation.
Trump announced late Friday that he was firing the inspector general, Steve Linick, an Obama administration appointee whose office was critical of what it saw as political bias in the State Department’s management. The ouster was one more move by the president against independent executive branch watchdogs who have found fault with his administration.
New York Rep. Eliot Engel and New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez sent letters to the White House, the State Department and the inspector general’s office asking that administration officials preserve all records related to Linick’s dismissal and provide them to the committees by this coming Friday.
They promised to “look deeply into this matter” and said they would seek to interview White House officials. They said they “trust that the White House will co-operate fully with our investigation.”
A senior department official said Trump removed Linick from his job on Friday but gave no reason for the action. In a letter to Congress, Trump said Linick, who had held the job since 2013, no longer had his full confidence and that his removal would take effect in 30 days. Trump did not mention Linick by name in his letter.
Democrats soon cried foul. Engel suggested Linick was fired in part in retaliation for opening an unspecified investigation into Pompeo.
Engel offered no details. Two congressional aides said it involved allegations that Pompeo may have improperly treated staff. Linick’s office has issued several reports critical of the department’s handling of personnel matters during the Trump administration, including accusing some political appointees of retaliating against career officials.
Linick, a former assistant U.S. attorney in California and Virginia, had overseen inspector general reports that were highly critical of the department’s management policies during the Trump administration. His office had criticized several Trump appointees for their treatment of career staff for apparently being insufficiently supportive of Trump and his policies.
Under Linick, the State Department’s inspector general office was also critical of former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s hiring freeze and attempts to streamline the agency by slashing its funding and personnel.
Trump has been taking aim lately at inspectors general.
In April, he fired Michael Atkinson, the inspector general for the intelligence community, for his role in the whistleblower complaint that led to Trump’s impeachment.
Then Trump removed Glenn Fine as acting inspector general at the Defence Department. The move stripped him of his post as chairman of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, which is among those overseeing the vast economic relief law pass in response to the coronavirus.
During a White House briefing on COVID-19, Trump questioned the independence of an inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services over a report that said there was a shortage of supplies and testing at hospitals.
Trump has since moved to replace the HHS official, Christi A. Grimm. She is a career person who has held the position in an acting capacity, but now Trump has nominated a permanent replacement.
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