Congressional Democrats swiftly launched an investigation into the forthcoming dismissal of U.S. Department of State Inspector General Steve Linick. President Donald Trump controversially announced the career official’s planned departure in a letter sent Friday night.
“President Trump’s unprecedented removal of Inspector General Linick is only his latest sacking of an inspector general, our government’s key independent watchdogs, from a federal agency,” noted a Saturday letter sent by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.). “We unalterably oppose the politically-motivated firing of inspectors general and the President’s gutting of these critical positions.”
While stopping far short of creating a formal select committee to investigate the latest ouster at OIG, the Engel-Menendez letter casts itself as performing “a constitutionally-mandated obligation to conduct oversight” and to “protect the integrity” of national institutions such as the country’s inspectors general system.
The missive also criticizes the timing of Trump’s “late-night firing” and contextualizes the personnel change as “only [Trump’s] latest sacking” in line with a recent firing spree aimed at the largely politically-neutral watchdog and good government framework.
Trump has repeatedly removed inspectors general who have dared to cross–or who have given the appearance of crossing–his path in recent months. Linick’s removal marks the fourth inspector general to be forced into early retirement from public service since April.
Democrats also savaged the 45th president’s motivation behind the Linick firing–echoing and amplifying their party’s immediate criticism of the move as something not entirely unlike pure corruption.
On Friday, Engel himself alleged that Linick had recently begun investigating Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, one of Trump’s most steadfast and trusted supports and a former Republican member of Congress with a conservative voting record.
“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.”
Former White House ethics attorney and evergreen Trump critic Walter Shaub on Twitter wrote that the Linick firing was “part of a purge to remove legitimate watchdogs and replace them with loyalists.”
“If Inspector General Linick was fired because he was conducting an investigation of conduct by Secretary Pompeo, the Senate cannot let this stand,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said on Twitter late Friday night after the firing was first reported. “The Senate Foreign Relations Committee must get to bottom of what happened here.”
The letter restates and elaborates on that line of critique.
“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,” the Saturday letter accuses. “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.”
Engel and Menendez have requested the retention of any and all records–a term that is broadly defined–related to the Linick firing and have given the administration an initial deadline of May 22 to comply with the document request.
Democrats also say they plan to “request additional documents and interviews of OIG officials” as part of their nascent investigation.
[image via Alex Wong/Getty Images]
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