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Top Democrat to introduce bill to limit Trump's ability to fire IGs

Top Democrat to introduce bill to limit Trump's ability to fire IGs
© Greg Nash

Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezBiden must wait weekend for State Department pick Senate presses Biden's pick for secretary of State on Iran, China, Russia and Yemen Year-end deal creates American Latino, women's history museums MORE (D-N.J.), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on Monday that he will introduce legislation to limit President TrumpDonald TrumpMore than two-thirds of Americans approve of Biden's coronavirus response: poll Sarah Huckabee Sanders to run for governor Mexico's president tests positive for COVID-19 MORE's ability to fire watchdogs within the administration. 

The decision to introduce new legislation comes after Trump fired Steve Linick, the State Department inspector general (IG), the fourth IG he has ousted in recent months.

"This latest action by the President calls for an immediate response from Congress. That is why I will be introducing new legislation to create additional protections against removing an Inspector General, and to prevent a President from carrying out an unjustified—or worse, politically motivated—removal," Menendez said in a statement. 

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Menendez's forthcoming bill would give Congress a "mechanism" to review attempts by a president to remove inspectors general and would only allow an inspector general to be fired "for cause," such as misusing funds, abuse of power or breaking the law. 

It would also require that any acting inspectors general be a career official and for the head of agency to recuse themself if they are under investigation. 

Trump announced in a letter to House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBiden attends first church service as president in DC, stops at local bagel shop More hands needed on the nuclear football Sunday shows preview: All eyes on Biden administration to tackle coronavirus MORE (D-Calif.) that he was firing Linick because he no longer had the "fullest confidence" in him.

Asked about the decision on Monday, Trump indicated that Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoWhite House installs new leadership at federally-funded international broadcasters US carrier group enters South China Sea amid tensions between China, Taiwan Biden can hold China accountable for human rights abuses by divesting now MORE had asked him to remove Linick. Pompeo, in an interview with The Washington Post, said that he believed Linick was not performing the job in a way that he believed improved the State Department. 

“I went to the president and made clear to him that Inspector General Linick wasn’t performing a function in a way that we had tried to get him to, that was additive for the State Department, very consistent with what the statute says he’s supposed to be doing,” Pompeo said.

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The State Department IG was reportedly investigating if Pompeo made a staffer carry out personal tasks, though Pompeo said on Monday that he was not aware of the investigation. Rep. Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelState Department sets up new bureau for cybersecurity and emerging technologies How Congress dismissed women's empowerment 2020: A year in photos MORE (D-N.Y.) said Monday Linick was also probing Trump's emergency decoration last year that allowed him to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia.

The move has sparked fierce backlash from congressional Democrats, with Menendez and Engel, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, launching an investigation over the weekend. 

Several Senate Republicans have said they want a more detailed explanation from Trump, but none have yet endorsed the need for new legislation.  

In addition to Menendez, Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyTensions running high after gun incident near House floor Democrats float 14th Amendment to bar Trump from office Senate approves waiver for Biden's Pentagon nominee MORE (D-Conn.) and  Rep. Jim CooperJim CooperFive centrist Democrats oppose Pelosi for Speaker in tight vote Pelosi wins Speakership for fourth time in dramatic vote LIVE COVERAGE: House votes to name Speaker MORE (D-Tenn.) unveiled legislation last month to give 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."