“The firings of multiple Inspectors General is unprecedented; doing so without good cause chills the independence essential to their purpose,” Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah tweeted on Saturday.
President Trump on Friday fired State Department Inspector General Steve Linick, the agency’s top watchdog, who was reportedly investigating Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s alleged misuse of his staff for personal errands.
Trump informed Congress of his decision in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday night. In justifying his decision, Trump wrote that he “no longer” had the “fullest confidence” in Linick and said he would nominate an individual who had his “full confidence and “meets the appropriate qualifications.”
A senior department official told the Associated Press that Trump gave no reason for Linick’s ouster, but NBC News reported that Linick was looking into whether Pompeo forced a staffer to complete personal tasks, such as walking his dog, picking up his dry cleaning, and making dinner reservations for Pompeo and his wife.
Pompeo “recommended” Linick’s firing, and Trump agreed with the move, according to another NBC News report. Under law, the president is required to provide Congress with 30 days notice if it intends to oust an IG. Trump’s move outraged Democrats, who accused him of trying to subvert oversight of his administration and protect Pompeo.
“I have learned that the Office of the Inspector General had opened an investigation into Secretary Pompeo. Mr. Linick’s firing amid such a probe strongly suggests that this is an unlawful act of retaliation,” Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-NY), chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said in a statement.
Engel and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, demanded on Saturday that the White House hand over all records related to Linick’s firing.
“We unalterably oppose the politically-motivated firing of inspectors general and the President’s gutting of these critical positions,” Engel and Menendenz wrote in a letter to the Trump administration announcing their investigation.
Engel and 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.
Like Engel, Menendez did not mince words in discussing Linick’s ouster. “Another late Friday night attack on independence, accountability, and career officials,” Menendez tweeted on Friday. “At this point, the president’s paralyzing fear of any oversight is undeniable.”
Some Republicans also expressed opposition to Linick’s firing.
“The firings of multiple Inspectors General is unprecedented; doing so without good cause chills the independence essential to their purpose,” Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah tweeted on Saturday. “It is a threat to accountable democracy and a fissure in the constitutional balance of power.”
The removal of Linick marks just the latest attempt by Trump to purge the federal government of its watchdogs. In just the last few months, Trump has ousted the IG responsible for overseeing $2 trillion in emergency coronavirus spending, the Department of Health & Human Services’ IG who authored a report about the shortages coronavirus testing kits and personal protective equipment at hospitals, and the IG of the intelligence community who handled the complaint against Trump in the Ukraine scandal.
Linick’s investigation into Pompeo also isn’t the first time the secretary of state has faced questions about his use of taxpayer money for personal gain. A whistleblower filed a complaint against Pompeo in 2019, accusing him of asking diplomatic security agents to run errands, like picking up his dog from a groomer and getting take-out meals for Pompeo. He’s also been accused of using the State Department’s private plane and agency funds for frequent visits to his home state of Kansas, where he was considering a 2020 Senate run.
On Monday, another potential—and even more damning—reason for Linick’s ouster emerged. According to the Washington Post, House Democrats have learned that Linick had mostly completed an investigation into Pompeo’s controversial decision to bypass Congress with an emergency declaration to approve billions of dollars in arms sales to Saudi Arabia last year.
“I have learned that there may be another reason for Mr. Linick’s firing,” Engel told the Post. “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.”
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.
Linick, whose office also took issue with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she served as America’s top diplomat, played a minor role in the Ukraine impeachment investigation into Trump. In October, Linick turned over documents to House investigators that he had received from State Department Counselor T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, a close Pompeo associate, which contained information from debunked conspiracy theories about Ukraine’s role in the 2016 election.
Stephen Akard, a former career foreign service officer who has close ties to Vice President Mike Pence, will now serve as the acting Inspector General for the State Department, according to various media outlets.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.