President Donald Trump fired the State Department’s inspector general on Friday night and replaced him with a staunch ally, a move Democrats immediately decried as the latest example of the White House getting rid of watchdogs who have been critical of the administration. Trump gave no real explanation for the ouster of Steve Linick, who had been appointed during the Obama administration, only saying that he no longer had his “fullest confidence” and he would be removed in 30 days. Congress is required to be notified 30 days in advance of any removal of an inspector general. Linick’s successor will be Stephen Akard, a former career foreign service officer who has close ties to Vice President Mike Pence from his home state of Indiana.
Linick had been critical of the State Department’s leadership during the Trump presidency for alleged retribution toward staff members. But beyond that, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said the firing took place after Linick opened an unspecified investigation into Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “This firing is the outrageous act of a president trying to protect one of his most loyal supporters, the secretary of state, from accountability,” Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., said in a statement. “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.”
Engel didn’t go into details about what the alleged investigation entailed but a congressional aide said it had to do with claims of Pompeo’s “misuse of a political appointee at the Department to perform personal tasks for himself and Mrs. Pompeo.” Linick has criticized several times the way the State Department has been handling personnel issues. And in 2019, a State Department whistleblower allegedly claimed Pompeo used his security detail for personal chores, like picking up his family’s dog. It allegedly led agents to complain that they were serving as “UberEats with guns.”
Linick also played a minor role in the impeachment investigation as he requested a meeting with lawmakers to turn over documents his office had obtained. Those documents which amounted to some 40 pages ended up being “largely inconsequential,” as the New York Times notes.
The Friday-night ouster was not an isolated incident and marked the the latest in a string of watchdogs who have been fired by the president in recent months. It came weeks after Trump got rid of Christi Grimm, who was principal deputy inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services. Earlier, he had gotten rid of Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community inspector general. Trump also fired Glenn Fine from his role as acting inspector general at the Defense Department, which also meant he would no longer be the head of the panel Congress created to oversee the coronavirus stimulus package.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that Trump’s “late-night, weekend firing of the State Department inspector general” meant that the president “has accelerated his dangerous pattern of retaliation against the patriotic public servants charged with conducting oversight on behalf of the American people.” Sen. Robert Menendez said that the firing showed that “the President’s paralyzing fear of any oversight is undeniable.” Sen. Chris Murphy also pointed to the president’s pattern of behavior to note that “inspectors general are inconvenient, pesky brutes if your goal is turn the government into a cash cow for your friends, cronies and family.”
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