Democrats launch probe into Trump's firing of State Department watchdog, Pompeo

Democrats launch probe into Trump's firing of State Department watchdog, Pompeo
© Greg Nash

Top Democrats overseeing foreign relations in both the House and the Senate launched an investigation Saturday into the ousting of the State Department's inspector general, alleging the dismissal was politically motivated.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew Jersey incumbents steamroll progressive challengers in primaries Tucker Carlson ratchets up criticism of Duckworth, calls her a 'coward' Trump on Confederate flag: 'It's freedom of speech' MORE late Friday evening informed Congress he was preparing to fire Steve Linick from his post of inspector general (IG), prompting swift rebuke from Democrats who accused the president of attempting to block an investigation by the IG into Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoFeds investigating allegations TikTok failed to protect children's privacy: report Hillicon Valley: Pompeo floats TikTok ban | Civil rights groups slam Facebook after call | Election security funding included in proposal Top US general doubtful Russian bounties led to American deaths in Afghanistan MORE.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezThomas Kean wins GOP primary to take on Rep. Tom Malinowski Trump administration moves to formally withdraw US from WHO Senate Dems request briefing on Russian bounty wire transfers MORE (D-N.J.) and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelNew Jersey incumbents steamroll progressive challengers in primaries Trump's WHO decision raises bipartisan concerns in House On The Trail: Trump, coronavirus fuel unprecedented voter enthusiasm MORE (D-N.Y.) said reports indicate that Pompeo personally made the recommendation for the president to fire Linick to disrupt an investigation into the secretary himself. 

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“Reports indicate that Secretary Pompeo personally made the recommendation to fire Mr. Linick, and it is our understanding that he did so because the inspector general had opened an investigation into wrongdoing by Secretary Pompeo himself,” the lawmakers wrote in a statement. 

“Such an action, transparently designed to protect Secretary Pompeo from personal accountability, would undermine the foundation of our democratic institutions and may be an illegal act of retaliation,” the lawmakers added. 

A Democratic aide told NPR that Linick was looking into whether Pompeo misused a political appointee at the Department of State to perform personal tasks for the secretary and his wife. 

“We unalterably oppose the politically-motivated firing of inspectors general and the President’s gutting of these critical positions,” Menendez and Engel wrote. 

The lawmakers demanded that the White House, State Department and Office of the Inspector General preserve all records related to Linick’s firing and turn over information to the committees within one week. 

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Linick is expected to be replaced by Ambassador Stephen Akard, a veteran career foreign service officer who currently serves as the director of the Office of Foreign Missions. He was confirmed by the Senate for his post as director, but he’ll take over the IG position in an acting capacity until the president nominates a replacement.

Linick is one of a number of IGs recently dismissed by the president, who had earlier fired the watchdog from the Department of Justice, Michael Atkinson, and Glenn Fine, who was named to oversee the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The allegation that Linick's firing was meant to prevent an investigation into Pompeo raises questions of how far the president will go to protect his most loyal allies. 

Pompeo is one of the president’s longest-serving senior officials, moving from director of the CIA to secretary of State in March 2018 following the abrupt firing of then-Secretary Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonHow the US could respond to Russia's support of the Taliban Trump insulted UK's May, called Germany's Merkel 'stupid' in calls: report McEnany: Trump likes to hire people with 'countervailing viewpoints' MORE

Pompeo, a former Republican congressman from Kansas, is also one of the president’s most ardent defenders when pressed by the media. 

Likewise, Trump has praised the secretary while attacking the agency he oversees — sometimes in the same breath.

In the past, Trump said Pompeo was doing a “fantastic” job while referring to the State Department as the "Deep State." Trump has accused career civil servants, who take an oath of nonpartisanship, of undermining him in the agency based on their political leanings. 

Linick also played a role in the House’s impeachment investigation into the president. The former IG provided Congress a dossier in October of accusations compiled by Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiOusted Manhattan US Attorney Berman to testify before House next week Sunday shows preview: With coronavirus cases surging, lawmakers and health officials weigh in Hillicon Valley: Democrats introduce bill banning federal government use of facial recognition tech | House lawmakers roll out legislation to establish national cyber director | Top federal IT official to step down MORE and delivered to the State Department that alleged corrupt acts by former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTucker Carlson ratchets up criticism of Duckworth, calls her a 'coward' Joe Biden wins New Jersey primary Biden wins Delaware primary MORE and his son Hunter Biden over their dealings in Ukraine.

Democrats described the dossier as containing “debunked theories and false statements” and used it as ammunition in their argument the president was acting on political motivations rather than anti-corruption. 

Trump was acquitted in a Senate trial in January on two impeachment charges, abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.