Five Points On Trump’s Late-Night Firing Of The State Department Inspector General

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 02: U.S. State Department Inspector General Steve Linick departs the U.S. Capitol October 02, 2019 in Washington, DC. Linick reportedly met with congressional officials to brief them on info... WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 02: U.S. State Department Inspector General Steve Linick departs the U.S. Capitol October 02, 2019 in Washington, DC. Linick reportedly met with congressional officials to brief them on information related to the impeachment inquiry centered around U.S. President Donald Trump. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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May 18, 2020 12:32 p.m.

President Donald Trump axed State Department Inspector General Steve Linick late Friday night, a decision he announced in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D). 

Saying that he’d lost confidence in the IG, Trump replaced him with Amb. Stephen Akard, an ally of Vice President Mike Pence. 

Though firing independent watchdogs is nothing new for Trump — indeed, Linick is the fourth such official to be fired this spring alone — this decision seems deeply linked to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. 

The Firing Was On Pompeo’s Recommendation.

A White House official told the New York Times Saturday that Pompeo had been the one to recommend the firing to Trump in the first place. 

Trump agreed, unsurprisingly, given his light trigger finger on booting inspectors general. 

Earlier this month, he fired Health and Human Services Inspector General Christi Grimm, who had written a report critical of the administration’s coronavirus response. Before that, he axed the intelligence community’s inspector general, Michael Atkinson, whose handling of a whistleblower complaint helped trigger the House impeachment inquiry. Trump also removed acting inspector general for the Defense Department Glenn Fine from his role, ensuring that he could not head up a panel overseeing how the administration spends coronavirus relief funds.

Linick Was Allegedly Investigating Pompeo On Multiple Fronts.

One catalyst of this particular firing may have been an inquiry Linick had launched into Pompeo’s treatment of a political appointee. Allegedly, Pompeo and his wife asked the official to do menial tasks like pick up their dry cleaning, walk their dog and make restaurant reservations. 

But Linick was also investigating more serious behavior.

House Democrats have discovered that Linick was almost finished with an investigation into Pompeo’s circumventing of Congress to approve billions in arms sales to Saudi Arabia last year, the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent reported.

“I have learned that there may be another reason for Mr. Linick’s firing,” Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, told TPM in a statement. “His office was investigating — at my request — Trump’s phony declaration of an emergency so he could send weapons to Saudi Arabia. We don’t have the full picture yet, but it’s troubling that Secretary Pompeo wanted Mr. Linick pushed out before this work could be completed.”

The Latest Accusations About Pompeo Were Part Of A Pattern Of Similar Complaints.

The first, seemingly less serious alleged inquiry into Pompeo has echoes of an old complaint, one of the many Pompeo was successfully able to deflect without sustaining real damage. 

Last July, members of Congress investigated a whistleblower complaint that Pompeo was forcing his diplomatic security agents to be his errand boys: specifically, to pick up restaurant takeout and to tote the dog from the groomers. 

But accusations of Pompeo’s misuse of taxpayer money goes beyond allegedly treating his security agents as, in the whistleblower’s words, “UberEats with guns.” 

During the January 2019 government shutdown, reports surfaced that Pompeo’s wife, Susan, accompanied him on an eight-day trip across the Middle East. Unpaid staffers were forced to assist and guard her on the trip, despite the fact that she has no official government role. 

And last fall, Pompeo came under scrutiny for his frequent trips to Kansas, a state with a Senate seat up for grabs in November. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) called for a Hatch Act review into Pompeo’s trips. A few days after Menendez called for oversight, the Kansas City Star published a scathing editorial called “Mike Pompeo, either quit and run for U.S. Senate in Kansas or focus on your day job.”  

Despite his frequent trips to the Sunflower State, Pompeo has publicly repeatedly denied that he has interest in the seat. It is rumored that he’s expressed even loftier political ambitions than the Senate: the White House in 2024.

Congressional Democrats Have Launched A Probe Into Linick’s Firing.

On Saturday, Engel and Menendez, both leaders of foreign policy committees, announced a probe into Linick’s firing. 

“Reports indicate that Secretary Pompeo personally made the recommendation to fire Mr. Linick, and it is our understanding that he did so because the Inspector General had opened an investigation into wrongdoing by Secretary Pompeo himself,” they wrote in a joint statement. “Such an action, transparently designed to protect Secretary Pompeo from personal accountability, would undermine the foundation of our democratic institutions and may be an illegal act of retaliation.”

They requested a tranche of documents, records and communications related to the sacking from the White House, State Department and the Office of the Inspector General. The information is due no later than 5 p.m. on Friday, May 22, they added. 

There Was Some (Mild, Limited) Republican Opposition To The Firing.

The many Democrats angry about the latest sacking have been joined by a smattering of high-profile elected Republicans. 

The first, and more predictable, was Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), who made his thoughts known on Twitter. 

“The firings of multiple Inspectors General is unprecedented; doing so without good cause chills the independence essential to their purpose,” he wrote. “It is a threat to accountable democracy and a fissure in the constitutional balance of power.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) also offered some couched criticism of Trump’s move. 

“Although he failed to fully evaluate the State Department’s role in advancing the debunked Russian collusion investigation, those shortcomings do not waive the President’s responsibility to provide details to Congress when removing an IG,” he said of Linick in a statement. “As I’ve said before, Congress requires written reasons justifying an IG’s removal. A general lack of confidence simply is not sufficient detail to satisfy Congress.”

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