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Timing of State Department Inspector General’s Sudden Resignation Raises Eyebrows

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at a news conference at the State Department on April 29, 2020, in Washington,DC.

The U.S. Department of State’s independent watchdog is reeling from a leadership upheaval for the second time this year. Acting Inspector General (IG) of the Department of State Stephen Akard tendered his resignation earlier this week and will be out of the job on Friday, according to a statement released by the internal oversight agency.

But the timing of his exit quickly raised questions about how independent the watchdog actually is under the current administration. The news of Akard’s resignation comes two days after a House committee subpoenaed multiple Secretary of State Mike Pompeo aides as part of an investigation into the firing of former State Department Inspector General Steve Linick.

“Ambassador Stephen J. Akard, the State Department’s Acting Inspector General and the Director of the Office of Foreign Missions, has announced he is returning to the private sector after years of public service,” the agency said Wednesday. “We appreciate his dedication to the Department and to our country. The Deputy Inspector General, Diana R. Shaw, will become the new Acting Inspector General.”

Akard’s sudden and unexpected departure–as well as the exceedingly brief nature of his stay in the position–is likely to serve as yet another tocsin for the tenuous state of independent oversight during President Donald Trump’s time in office.

“Inspectors General serve an incredibly important function in the U.S. Government, and particularly to the American public, in ensuring oversight of federal officials and their actions,” whistleblower attorney Mark Zaid told Law&Crime in an email.

“Not only is independence critical to their function, but so too is a need for continuity. The continual shake-ups and disruptions during the Trump Administration across the IG community undermines the effectiveness of the system and calls out for Congressional review and possible reform,” Zaid continued.

Akard has only been the acting head of the agency since mid-May when he was selected to fill the void left by his unceremoniously fired predecessor Steve Linick.

Trump announced Linick’s removal in a letter sent to congressional leaders late on a Friday night–quickly prompting recitations of the ever-present “massacre” metaphor. But those fears, the White House’s critics insist, may have actually panned out this time.

Linick was fired at the request of Secretary Mike Pompeo–the same man leading the agency subject to Linick’s oversight. And, as it turns out, at least two probes targeting Pompeo were nearly complete at the time Linick was ousted.

A typical wave of outrage quickly followed as Democrats and other critics of the administration wondered out loud whether Linick was axed because he was investigating improper use of agency resources by Pompeo and his wife. Later events suggested the former inspector general was more likely tossed because he was looking into the Trump administration’s controversial arms deal to the Islamist terrorism-exporter, strong U.S. ally and authoritarian dictatorship of Saudi Arabia–which bypassed the U.S. Congress.

In late June, however, Akard moved to calm some congressional nerves by promising that he would personally recuse himself from both of the Pompeo investigations.

Trump, famously, is not fond of his preferred subordinates recusing themselves from such investigations–that is, probes which could yield potentially embarrassing results for his administration.

Akard’s surprise retreat from his post–and into the arms of a law firm, according to the Washington Post–provides plenty of fodder for speculation that his hands-off approach to the Affaires Pompeo at least played some part in his decision to call it quits on his high-profile position after serving there for less than three months.

National security attorney Bradley P. Moss told Law&Crime that Akard’s farewell to public employment was of a piece with such concerns.

“The firings and resignations will continue at agencies throughout the Trump Administration until they find the ‘yes’ men and women the president is looking for and who will rubber stamp whatever the president wants,” he said in an email.

[image via ANDREW HARNIK/POOL/AFP via Getty Images]

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