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Democrats call for probe into ouster of State Dept. watchdog

Democratic lawmakers say they are planning to look into the ouster of the State Department's inspector general on Friday, the latest federal watchdog to be removed by the Trump administration.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelOvernight Defense: Trump, Biden set to meet in final debate | Explicit Fort Bragg tweets were sent by account administrator | China threatens retaliation over Taiwan arms sale Is Trump a better choice for Jewish voters than Biden? Overnight Defense: Trump says he's leaving Walter Reed, 'feeling really good' after COVID-19 treatment | White House coronavirus outbreak grows | Dems expand probe into Pompeo speeches MORE (D-N.Y.) blasted the decision to remove Inspector General Steve Linick, asserting it was an "outrageous" attempt by President TrumpDonald John TrumpFox News president, top anchors advised to quarantine after coronavirus exposure: report Six notable moments from Trump and Biden's '60 Minutes' interviews Biden on attacks on mental fitness: Trump thought '9/11 attack was 7/11 attack' MORE to shield Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoArmenia and Azerbaijan say they will implement ceasefire agreement Monday Entire Nigerian police force mobilized after days of violent protests that have killed at least 69 Hillicon Valley: Treasury sanctions Russian group accused of targeting critical facilities | Appeals court rules Uber, Lyft must comply with labor laws | Biden: Countries that target US elections will 'pay a price' MORE from scrutiny.

"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 said in a statement.

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"This President believes he is above the law. As he systematically removes the official independent watchdogs from the Executive Branch, the work of the Committee on Foreign Affairs becomes that much more critical. In the days ahead, I will be looking into this matter in greater detail, and I will press the State Department for answers," he added.

Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphySenate Democrats hold talkathon to protest Barrett's Supreme Court nomination Murphy says US would be 'better off' if Trump admin 'did nothing' on coronavirus Democratic Senate emerges as possible hurdle for progressives  MORE (D-Conn.) echoed the call for further review, tweeting, "If Inspector General Linick was fired because he was conducting an investigation of conduct by Secretary Pompeo, the Senate cannot let this stand. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee must get to bottom of what happened here."

The State Department said Friday that Ambassador Stephen Akard, a former career foreign service officer, would replace Linick, who was appointed to the post in 2013 by then-President Obama and is one of a number of watchdogs recently replaced by the Trump administration.

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Linick previously worked as an assistant U.S. attorney in California and Virginia before joining the Justice Department to oversee its National Procurement Fraud Task Force and serve as deputy chief of its fraud section.

“On Sept. 11, 2019, Ambassador Akard was confirmed by the Senate, 90-2, to lead the Department’s Office of Foreign Missions and we look forward to him leading the Office of the Inspector General,” a State Department spokesperson told The Hill on Friday.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBrown says Biden's first moves as president should be COVID relief, voting rights Sunday shows - Spotlight shifts to positive tests among Pence aides Pelosi dismisses talk of White House compromise on stimulus: They 'keep moving the goal post' MORE (D-Calif.) said in a statement that the removal of Linick underscored what she called a "dangerous pattern of retaliation against the patriotic public servants charged with conducting oversight on behalf of the American people."

"Inspector General Linick was punished for honorably performing his duty to protect the Constitution and our national security, as required by the law and by his oath," she said, adding that the move "will set back the important work of the Office of the Inspector General to perform critical audits, investigations and inspections of U.S. embassies and programs around the world" during the coronavirus crisis.

"The President must cease his pattern of reprisal and retaliation against the public servants who are working to keep Americans safe, particularly during this time of global emergency," she concluded.

Multiple other House Democrats blasted the move: 

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Trump said in a letter to Pelosi on Friday notifying congressional leaders of the decision to remove Linick that he "no longer" had the "fullest confidence" in the inspector general, with the removal set to take effect in 30 days.

The State Department watchdog played a more minor role in the impeachment proceedings last year after he requested an urgent briefing with lawmakers in October to turn over documents he had obtained. The documents came in part from Trump's personal lawyer Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiWhite House lawyer helped shop controversial Hunter Biden story to Wall Street Journal: NYT 'Saturday Night Live' tackles final presidential debate Biden pushes back on Trump: 'Crass' to go after political rival's children MORE, with Democrats saying they were passed along by the secretary of State and contained a number of false statements.

The president has moved in recent weeks to replace a number of inspectors general throughout the administration, including Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson, who was the first to alert Congress in 2019 of an “urgent” whistleblower complaint obtained by his office regarding Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, the subject of the impeachment proceedings.

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Atkinson blasted his removal in early April, saying he believed he was ousted for carrying out his "legal obligations."

Trump last month also replaced acting Pentagon Inspector General Glenn Fine a week after he was tapped to lead a committee charged with overseeing $2 trillion in coronavirus relief.

And Trump has moved this month to replace the Department of Health and Human Services's inspector general following blistering criticism from the president after the current watchdog reported medical shortages at hospitals amid the coronavirus pandemic.