Senate

Two Democrats roll out bill to protect inspectors general from politically motivated firing

Bonnie Cash

A pair of Democratic lawmakers unveiled legislation on Thursday to protect inspectors general (IG) from politically motivated firings. 

The bill — which was sponsored by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) — gives Senate-confirmed agency watchdogs a seven-year term in office, with the ability to serve more than one term.

Under the bill, the inspectors general could only be removed from office early for “permanent incapacity, inefficiency, neglect of duty, malfeasance, or conviction of a felony or conduct involving moral turpitude.”

“We simply cannot allow President Trump to weaponize independent oversight positions in his administration to reward his friends, punish his political enemies, and cover up wrongdoing,” Murphy said in a statement. 

Cooper added the removal of the inspectors general “without just cause is reckless and appears to be political retaliation.”

The legislation comes after President Trump’s decision to sideline multiple inspectors general within his administration, which has sent shockwaves through Washington. 

Eight senators — including Republicans Susan Collins (Maine), Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and Mitt Romney (Utah) — sent a letter to Trump on Wednesday asking him to turn over a more detailed reasoning for his decision to fire Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson, saying the brief letter he sent the House and Senate Intelligence committees did not meet legal requirements. 

“Congressional intent is clear that an expression of lost confidence, without further explanation, is not sufficient to fulfill the requirements of the statute,” they wrote, adding that they want to confirm there were “clear, substantial reasons” for Atkinson’s removal.
 
Trump defended the decision to fire Atkinson during a press conference on Saturday, calling Atkinson a “disgrace” who did a “terrible job.” Atkinson, who handled the whistleblower complaint at the center of the impeachment inquiry, said in a statement that he believed Trump fired him for carrying out his “legal obligations.”  

In addition to firing Atkinson, Trump named new inspectors general for the Department of Education, Central Intelligence Agency and Department of Defense. 

He also nominated someone to fill a new IG position to oversee funds tied to the coronavirus relief legislation, replacing Glenn Fine, who had served as the acting Pentagon IG for roughly four years and been named by a group of his peers on the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency to lead the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee. 

Murphy said on Tuesday that he was drafting the legislation amid reports that Trump would replace a total of seven IGs. 

“This is getting ridiculous,” he tweeted. “I’m drafting legislation to give all Inspectors General protected 7 year terms. Sound like a good idea?” 

 

Tags Chris Murphy Chuck Grassley Donald Trump Jim Cooper Mitt Romney Susan Collins

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