Trump fires State Department watchdog running Pompeo investigation

By on 19/05/2020
Inspector general Steve Linick was leading an investigation into allegations that Mike Pompeo used a political appointee at the state department to run personal errands for him and his wife

A State Department inspector general believed to be investigating secretary of state Mike Pompeo for potential abuse of office has been sacked by president Trump, raising concerns among both Republican and Democrat lawmakers.

President Trump informed Congress via a letter to House speaker Nancy Pelosi late on 15 May that he intends to fire Steve Linick, who has held the watchdog role since 2013. “It is vital that I have the fullest confidence in the appointees serving as inspectors general. That is no longer the case with regard to this inspector general,” the letter said.

According to a Democratic congressional aide, Linick had recently opened an investigation into allegations that Pompeo used a political appointee at the state department to run personal errands for him and his wife. According to NBC, these errands included walking the couple’s dog, making dinner reservations and picking up dry cleaning.

“This firing is the outrageous act of a president trying to protect one of his most loyal supporters, the secretary of state, from accountability,” said Eliot Engel, the Democratic chair of the House foreign affairs committee. “I have learned that the Office of the Inspector General had opened an investigation into Secretary Pompeo. Mr Linick’s firing amid such a probe strongly suggests that this is an unlawful act of retaliation.”

Pompeo confirmed in an interview with The Washington Post that he asked the president to fire Linick, but said it was not political retaliation because he did not know what Linick was investigating. “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,” he said.

Phony declaration?

Engel has since told The Washington Post that Linick’s office was also investigating, at his request, “Trump’s phony declaration of an emergency so he could send weapons to Saudi Arabia”. This, he suggested, could be another reason for Linick’s firing.  

Linick will be replaced by Stephen Akard, a close ally of the vice president Mike Pence. A state department spokesperson said that Akard, who has been running the office for foreign missions, will take over immediately as acting inspector general. Traditionally, inspector general roles have been filled by non-partisan figures.

In US law, the president is required to give 30 days’ notice before dismissing an inspector general, giving Congress time to investigate the reasons behind it. Republicans ­– including senators Susan Collins, of Maine, and Chuck Grassley, Iowa – joined Democrats in questioning the move to replace Linick, and asked to see more detailed justification for the decision. However, in recent months Congress has not used the notice period to prevent the termination of other watchdog officials fired by the president.

String of inspector general dismissals

Earlier this month, Trump moved to replace Christi A. Grimm, the acting inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services, who had highlighted supply shortages and coronavirus testing delays at hospitals across the country. In April, he fired the inspector general who alerted Congress to security service concerns over his conversation with the Ukrainian president that sparked the bid to impeach Trump.

“Let’s be clear: all of these moves are punishment for doing the jobs the law authorizes and requires IGs [inspectors general] to do,” Michael Bromwich, former justice department inspector general, said in a tweet, following news that Grimm was to be replaced. Following Linick’s dismissal, he commented: “This will not end until Congress takes these retaliatory firings seriously. The appointment of a crony of the VP further politicizes jobs that by statute are supposed to be non-partisan. Another important norm defiled.”

Meanwhile Republican senator Mitt Romney tweeted that the firings of multiple inspectors general “is unprecedented”, that doing so without good cause “chills the independence essential to their purpose” and that “it is a threat to accountable democracy and a fissure in the constitutional balance of power”.

And Walter Shaub, former head of the US Office of Government Ethics, said: “The assault on the IG is late-stage corruption, and Trump’s kicking down one of the last bulwarks that stand between us and the burgeoning corruption-driven authoritarianism.”

Separately, it was revealed in April that a demoted US vaccines agency leader is to file a whistleblower complaint against the Trump administration, claiming that he was sidelined after resisting the president’s promotion of “potentially dangerous drugs”. In February, a White House spokesperson said that the Trump administration is planning to expel federal employees it believes are “actively working against” the president.

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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