Bipartisan Senate group offers bill to strengthen watchdog law after Trump firings

A bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation on Thursday to strengthen the laws on inspectors general after President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump on Kanye West's presidential run: 'He is always going to be for us' Marie Yovanovitch on Vindman retirement: He 'deserved better than this. Our country deserved better than this' Trump says Biden has been 'brainwashed': 'He's been taken over by the radical left' MORE rankled some lawmakers over his recent firings.

The legislation, spearheaded by Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyBig Ten moves to conference-only model for all fall sports Republicans considering an outdoor stadium for Florida convention: report Sixth GOP senator unlikely to attend Republican convention MORE (R-Iowa), would require that a president provide a “substantive rationale, including detailed and case-specific reasons” before an inspector general is removed.

“The Obama administration set bad precedent when it ignored the inspector general protection law, but a court upheld its actions, and the Trump administration applied the same standard. Congress should expect more of the same from future administrations if it doesn’t act to clarify the law,” Grassley said in a statement.

ADVERTISEMENT

It would also require an acting inspector general to be picked from "senior-level employees of the watchdog community," and place limits on how administrative leave could be used. Trump placed intelligence community inspector general Michael Atkinson and State Department inspector general Steven Linick on administrative leave after notifying Congress that he was firing them. 

In addition to Grassley, Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsRepublicans considering an outdoor stadium for Florida convention: report Sixth GOP senator unlikely to attend Republican convention Lincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad MORE (R-Maine), Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinData shows seven Senate Democrats have majority non-white staffs Bottom line Filibuster reform gains steam with Democrats MORE (D-Calif.), James LankfordJames Paul LankfordSenate GOP hedges on attending Trump's convention amid coronavirus uptick Tulsa to resume search for race massacre mass graves next week GOP senators debate replacing Columbus Day with Juneteenth as a federal holiday MORE (R-Okla.), Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperHillicon Valley: Facebook to label 'newsworthy' posts that violate policies | Unilever to pull ads from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram | FEC commissioner steps down Senate Democrats push federal agencies to combat coronavirus scams and robocalls The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Mark Takano says Congress must extend worker benefits expiring in July; WHO reports record spike in global cases MORE (D-Del.), Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneySixth GOP senator unlikely to attend Republican convention Koch-backed group urges Senate to oppose 'bailouts' of states in new ads The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump backs another T stimulus, urges governors to reopen schools MORE (R-Utah), Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterInternal poll shows tight battle in Montana House race Bipartisan Senate group offers bill to strengthen watchdog law after Trump firings Senate confirms Trump's watchdog for coronavirus funds MORE (D-Mont.), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanSenate GOP hedges on attending Trump's convention amid coronavirus uptick Koch-backed group urges Senate to oppose 'bailouts' of states in new ads Romney, Collins, Murkowski won't attend GOP convention MORE (R-Ohio) and Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanSenators press IRS chief on stimulus check pitfalls Hillicon Valley: Livestreaming service Twitch suspends Trump account | Reddit updates hate speech policy, bans subreddits including The_Donald | India bans TikTok Senators move to boost state and local cybersecurity as part of annual defense bill MORE (D-N.H.) are supporting the legislation.

“This bill makes clear that important and necessary steps must be taken before an Inspector General can be removed from their post. Congress must be given a detailed account of the reasons for the removal, and a full 30 days while the Inspector General remains on the job to consider those reasons,” Portman said.

Peters added that the bill would help to "shield" inspectors general from "political interference."

"These watchdogs must be able to conduct their work independently and without the threat of political interference – yet recent attacks by President Trump threaten to undermine their ability to do their critical jobs," he said.

ADVERTISEMENT

Trump sparked bipartisan backlash earlier this year over his firing of several government watchdogs. 

Grassley and other senators previously criticized Trump for not giving Congress a detailed enough explanation over his decision to fire Atkinson and Linick. In both cases he notified Congress in letters that he no longer had confidence in the two men. 

White House counsel Pat Cipollone told Grassley that Trump "acted within his constitutional and statutory authority." But Grassley warned earlier this month that he was still not satisfied, saying the White House's response had "no explanation for the removal" of Atkinson or Linick.

Grassley, who has long sponsored watchdog legislation, previously told The Hill late last month that he was working on legislation to prevent political appointees from being named acting inspectors general of their own departments. But in a Washington Post op-ed published Wednesday, Grassley indicated that the bill had become broader. 

"It’s really this simple: If inspectors general are doing good work, they should stay; if not, they should go. If the president is going to remove an inspector general, there’d better be a good reason. And there’s absolutely no good reason to leave an IG seat vacant for an extended period. These guidelines apply to all administrations, Republican or Democrat," Grassley wrote in the op-ed.