Senate Republicans demand answers from Trump on IG firing

Senate Republicans are demanding a fuller explanation from President Trump about his firing of State Department Inspector General Steve Linick, the fourth inspector general to be removed or targeted for removal by the president in the past three months.  

Republicans on Monday expressed concerns about the need to protect inspectors general, especially after Congress passed nearly $3 trillion of coronavirus legislation in recent months.

“I’m concerned that our inspectors general be allowed to do the job that they have been hired to do, whether it’s Mr. Linick or others,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Trump is required as president to give an explanation to Congress as well as a 30-day advanced notice on any decision to remove a department watchdog, a point made by Democrats and Republicans on Monday. Several lawmakers said it’s not enough for Trump to say he has lost confidence in Linick.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) on Monday sent a letter to Trump demanding an explanation for the firing of Linick, an Obama-era appointee, and other Republicans joined him in calling for more information.

Grassley reminded Trump that the law requires detailed explanations for dismissing a departmental watchdog to “ensure that inspectors general are not removed for political reasons.”

“Removal of IGs without explanation could create a chilling effect in the oversight community, and risks decreasing the quantity, quality, fidelity, and veracity of their reports,” Grassley warned.

Linick was working on at least two investigations involving Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that Democrats say raise the question of whether the secretary fired the watchdog as political retaliation. They include an inspector general report looking at Trump’s use of an emergency declaration to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia without congressional authorization and another investigation into whether Pompeo use a political staffer for running personal errands.

In a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Friday, Trump wrote that he “no longer” had “fullest confidence” in Linick.

But Grassley in his letter emphasized that “an expression of lost confidence, without further explanation, is not sufficient to fulfill the requirements of the IG Reform Act.”

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) on Monday said: “I want to hear the reasons, it’s in the law.”

Portman later emphasized to reporters that Trump must make sure he follows the 2008 Inspector General Reform Act in firing inspectors general.

“One thing I think must be done is we follow the law, which is 30-days notice and a rationale and that was put into the law,” Portman said.

The president last month fired Michael Atkinson, the inspector general of the U.S. intelligence community, with little explanation. A letter sent by Grassley in early April asking for an explanation of Atkinson’s termination has yet to receive a response although Grassley said Monday he expected to hear back this week.

Atkinson later said he was dismissed because he told Congress of a whistleblower complaint against Trump pertaining to his July 25 phone call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky that later became the basis for his impeachment in the House and trial in the Senate.

Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) on Monday said Senate Republicans would take a close look at Linick’s dismissal to make sure it was adequately justified.

“I want to hear what the explanation is,” he said, noting that Trump submitted a letter to Pelosi last week. “I’m sure we’ll have more conversations about it here in the next few days.”

“Inspectors general play an important role in our government,” Thune added. “It’s his prerogative to hire people and evidently this was a recommendation from State, from Pompeo, but we deserve an explanation.”

“These are important positions. They are watchdogs for these agencies and they have an important role to play and I think it’s important for us to be part of the oversight process, and I think we need and deserve a full explanation,” he said. “The relevant committees I suspect will probably want to drill down a little bit and figure out what’s behind all this and get a fuller explanation.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch (R-Idaho) held back from criticizing the inspector general’s firing but said he is in communication with the administration and expects to “continue to learn more.”

“It is the president’s prerogative and within his authority to make decisions regarding the adequacy of performance and continued employment of the inspector general,” Risch wrote in an email to The Hill. “I have been in contact with the administration over this matter and expect to continue to learn more.”

Democrats are raising the alarm that Linick’s firing occurred to obstruct at least two separate investigations involving the president and Pompeo.

One investigation Linick oversaw, and that Democrats have said was nearly completed, looked into whether Trump illegally issued an emergency declaration in May 2019 to move ahead on weapons sales to Saudi Arabia without congressional authorization. 

“I have learned that there may be another reason for Mr. Linick’s firing. His office was investigating — at my request — Trump’s phony declaration of an emergency so he could send weapons to Saudi Arabia,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) said in a statement Monday. 

“We don’t have the full picture yet, but it’s troubling that Secretary Pompeo wanted Mr. Linick pushed out before this work could be completed,” he said.

Trump issued an emergency declaration that bypassed congressional authorization to sell more than $8 billion of weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, with Pompeo saying at the time the move was necessary to “deter Iranian aggression.”

Congress had moved to block arm sales to Saudi Arabia after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul and criticisms against the Saudi-led coalition war in Yemen after an airstrike near a school bus killed dozens of children. 

A second investigation launched by the inspector general that Democrats are probing is whether or not Pompeo misused a political appointee at the State Department to run errands for both the secretary and his wife.

Pompeo on Monday denied that he had any knowledge Linick had opened an investigation into the secretary’s alleged misuse of a staffer, saying in an interview with The Washington Post he made the recommendation for the president to fire the inspector general for “undermining” the work of the agency, 

Engel and Sen. Bob Menendez (N.J.), the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, have launched an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Linick’s firing and the allegations that Pompeo misused a State Department employee.

These included whether the Pompeo’s and their adult son were using diplomatic security to run errands for the family, detailed in a whistleblower report revealed by CNN in July 2019, with agents complaining they are “UberEats with guns,” for being called to run food deliveries. 

Tags Bob Menendez Chuck Grassley Coronavirus Donald Trump Eliot Engel Inspectors general intelligence community Jim Risch John Thune Lisa Murkowski Mike Pompeo Nancy Pelosi Rob Portman State Department
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