President Donald Trump has fired or demoted multiple federal agency watchdogs since April 3. After the dismissals of inspectors general for the intelligence community, the Pentagon, and the departments of Health and Transportation, the president ousted the State Department’s Steve Linick on Friday. Linick was investigating U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia, as well as accusations that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife improperly asked political aides to run personal errands.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Pompeo confirmed he asked Trump to fire Linick but said he didn’t know the inspector general was investigating him.
“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,” said Pompeo, who declined to give specifics.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., immediately launched an investigation into the firing. Three GOP senators also have voiced concerns.
“Removal of IGs without explanation could create a chilling effect in the oversight community and risks decreasing the quantity, quality, fidelity, and veracity of their reports,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, wrote in a letter to the president. Grassley noted he and a group of senators are still waiting on an official response to a previous letter they sent after Trump fired intelligence community watchdog Michael Atkinson.
Inspectors general serve at the president’s pleasure, but Grassley has asked the White House for a fuller explanation of Linick’s firing by June 1.
“Congressional power here is somewhat weak,” said Amy Black, a political science professor at Wheaton College. “If members of Congress are concerned about the president’s actions, they have to choose what to investigate and how public to be with their concerns.”
Only three presidents have fired inspectors general, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. President Ronald Reagan removed all 15 inspectors general in the executive branch upon taking office. After congressional pushback, he reinstated five of them.
In 2009, President Barack Obama removed one inspector general. A House and Senate committee conducted a bipartisan investigation into the firing, concluding the administration did not afford the inspector general due process.
At the time Grassley wrote to Obama, noting, “Inspectors General are not removed for political reasons.” Obama did not reinstate the watchdog, but he also did not repeat the move. —H.P.