(Bloomberg) — President Donald Trump moved late Friday to replace State Department Inspector General Steve Linick, an Obama administration appointee who featured briefly in the Ukraine impeachment saga, according to a letter he sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday.
Trump wrote that “it is vital that I have the fullest confidence in the appointees serving as inspectors general.” At least one Republican senator said a “lack of confidence” alone is isn’t enough.
“That is no longer the case with regard to this inspector general,” he wrote, giving 30 days notice of his intention to dismiss Linick, as required by law. He added that he would nominate a replacement. In the meantime, Ambassador Stephen Akard will serve in the role, the State Department said.
Linick could not immediately be reached for comment.
It wasn’t immediately clear what led to the decision, but Trump has repeatedly clashed with independent federal watchdogs, challenging their findings and implying they might have a political agenda.
A person familiar with the matter said Secretary of State Michael Pompeo had recommended that Linick be dismissed.
Representative Eliot Engel, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement that he recently learned that Linick “had opened an investigation” into Pompeo, without offering specifics.
“This firing is the outrageous act of a president trying to protect one of his most loyal supporters, the secretary of State, from accountability,” Engel said.
On Saturday Engel and Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, ranking member of the Senate foreign relations committee, said they were launching an investigation into Linick’s firing. They demanded that the White House and the State Department produce a range of documents by May 22.
“We unalterably oppose the politically-motivated firing of inspectors general and the president’s gutting of these critical positions,” the lawmakers wrote.
A House aide said that Linick was looking into whether Pompeo had improperly had a political employee at the State Department perform personal tasks for him and his wife.
A State Department representative declined to comment, as did the White House.
Last October, Linick was briefly caught up in the impeachment case against Trump when he requested an “urgent” meeting with House lawmakers as they conducted their inquiry into Trump’s dealings with Ukraine’s leaders.
That set off speculation about what he might be offering, including the theory that he might have information showing harassment of State Department witnesses in the inquiry. In the end, the documents turned out to be emails and other letters, including information passed to Pompeo from Trump’s lawyer and confidant Rudy Giuliani. Democratic lawmakers later said the documents were a “package of disinformation” and “debunked conspiracy theories.”
Pelosi, in her own statement, said “the president’s late-night, weekend firing of the State Department inspector general has accelerated his dangerous pattern of retaliation against the patriotic public servants charged with conducting oversight on behalf of the American people.”
“Inspector General Linick,” she added, “was punished for honorably performing his duty to protect the Constitution and our national security, as required by the law and by his oath.”
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff of California tweeted: “Another Inspector General fired by Trump in the dead of night.”
Schiff also cast the move as “another apparent act of retaliation and cover up to shield a loyal cabinet secretary from oversight and accountability. And undermine the rule of law.”
Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, said on Twitter that “if Inspector General Linick was fired because he was conducting an investigation of conduct by Secretary Pompeo, the Senate cannot let this stand.”
Two Republican Senators also pushed back on Saturday, Mitt Romney of Utah and Charles Grassley of Iowa.
The firings of multiple IGs “without good cause chills the independence essential to their purpose,” Romney said on Twitter. “It is a threat to accountable democracy.”
Grassley said in a statement that “a general lack of confidence” in an IG “simply is not sufficient to satisfy Congress.”
Linick had also issued several reports that criticized actions taken during the Trump administration, including a hiring freeze under Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and a decision by Tillerson adviser Brian Hook, now the U.S. envoy for Iran, to dismiss a staffer who was perceived by some officials as opposing Trump’s agenda.
Linick served in the Justice Department under President George W. Bush. Bush nominated him to serve as the inspector general for the Federal Housing Finance Agency. As State Department inspector general, he oversaw a report that was extremely critical of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was secretary of State.
In early April, Trump fired Michael Atkinson, the inspector general for U.S. intelligence agencies. That same month, Trump ousted Glenn Fine from his position as acting Defense Department inspector general, which also made him ineligible to continue as chairman of the new Pandemic Response Accountability Committee. Michael Horowitz, head of a council of federal inspectors general, chose Fine for the new role of pandemic-spending watchdog.
(Updates with Romney, Grassley from 20th paragraph.)
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