Congressional Democrats also opened an investigation into the Linick firing. In a May 18 letter, Grassley insisted on a response from the White House about Atkinson and Linick’s removals no later than June 1.
The White House responded the next week, but the letter did not satisfy Grassley. While White House counsel Pat Cipollone asserted the president’s constitutional authority to remove an IG, he did not outline reasons other than to note that Trump no longer had the “fullest confidence” in them.
Under the 2008 Inspector General Reform Act, the president must give Congress a “detailed written explanation” for an IG’s dismissal 30 days before the firing is effective.
“All I want is a reason 4 firing these ppl,” Grassley tweeted last week when announcing his hold. “CHECKS&BALANCES.”
He also noted that President Barack Obama also “got [the] same earful from me,” after he “flout[ed] the IG protection law.”
“It really isn’t Grassley versus Obama or Grassley versus Trump or Grassley versus Bush or even going back to Reagan,” Grassley told The Washington Post. “It’s Article I of the Constitution versus Article II of the Constitution.”
Many on Capitol Hill refer to a hold as a “silent filibuster.” Senate leadership usually honors a hold request because battling it exhausts valuable floor time. And in this case it could alienate a political ally.
“Sen. Grassley has less to lose than some of the other Republicans in the Senate,” Amy Black, a political science professor at Wheaton College, said in an email. She noted Grassley is popular in his home state and doesn’t face reelection until 2022. “He has political capital that he can spend on issues that matter to him, and this is clearly one of those.”
Grassley has successfully used holds in the past. He only recently lifted a nearly two-year hold on William Evanina’s nomination to serve as counterintelligence chief. He placed the hold in June 2018 after the Department of Justice refused to hand over documents for a probe on the Trump campaign and Russia. After Attorney General William Barr gave Grassley the documents, he lifted it.
“Let this also be a reminder that when it comes to congressional oversight, I will use all the tools at my disposal to get to the truth of the matter and get access to the records that I believe are necessary to advance my investigations,” Grassley said after lifting the hold.
Only three presidents have fired IGs, according to the Congressional Research Service. Grassley was in the Senate throughout.
Iowans elected Grassley in 1981, the same year President Ronald Reagan removed all 15 IGs in the executive branch upon taking office. After congressional uproar, he reinstated five. In 2009, President Barack Obama removed inspector general Gerald Walpin, of the Corporation for National and Community Service. A bipartisan, bicameral congressional investigation concluded the administration did not afford Walpin due process. Investigators also said Walpin’s removal looked political.
Obama did not reinstate Walpin, but the investigation became a black eye for the administration.
“Most presidents of both parties understand there are some positions you do not want to politicize. It’ll cost the public to lose confidence in the fairness of our criminal justice system,” David Iglesias, a former U.S. attorney for the District of New Mexico under the Bush administration, told me.
Iglesias was one of the seven U.S. attorneys the George W. Bush administration fired on a single day in 2006. It became a scandal and ignited a congressional inquiry over whether political motivations spurred the move. Iglesias eventually received an apology letter from former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey.
“I don’t anticipate you’re going to see a similar letter from the Trump administration,” Iglesias said.