President Donald Trump has ended up inviting a whole lot of scrutiny with his abruptly announced plan to fire Steve Linick from his role as the inspector general overseeing operations at the State Department. Reportedly, Linick was investigating Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, making his firing seem like an act of political retaliation because he dared to go after a Trump appointee, Pompeo. Now, top Senate Republican Chuck Grassley (Iowa) is demanding that Trump explain his decision to dismiss Linick after the letter that the president sent Congress only said that he’d lost “confidence” in the official.
In a letter addressed to the president, Grassley noted that inspectors general “should be free from partisan political interference, from either the Executive or Legislative branch,” adding:
‘Congress’s intent is clear that an expression of lost confidence, without further explanation, is not sufficient to fulfill the requirements of the IG Reform Act. This is in large part because Congress intended that inspectors general only be removed when there is clear evidence of unfitness, wrongdoing, or failure to perform the duties of the office… As you work toward filling IG roles, it is absolutely imperative that any acting leadership do not create obvious conflicts that unduly threaten the statutorily required independence of inspectors general.’
Notice how Grassley chucks in a partisan dig at Linick (and, weirdly, Obama). And here we find ourselves in a broken republic with a broken Senate. And you may ask yourself, well, how did we get here? This is not a defender of the IG program. This is not a Senator with courage.
— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) May 16, 2020
As such, Grassley wants answers from the president about Linick’s firing by June 1. The president’s willful dismissal of the legal demand for a detailed explanation for the firing of an oversight official like Linick could come back to haunt Trump.
Sen. Chuck Grassley: "As I've said before, Congress requires written reasons justifying an IG's removal. A general lack of confidence simply is not sufficient detail to satisfy Congress."
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) May 16, 2020
The president actually addressed Linick’s firing in conversation with reporters this week. He said, in reference to the firing:
‘I don’t know him at all. I never even heard of him, but I was asked to by the State Department, by Mike. I offered most of my people, almost all of them, I said: you know, these are Obama appointees, and if you’d like to let ’em go, I think you should let them go… He’s an Obama employee. I understand he had a lot of problems with the DOD. There was an investigation on him, on the inspector general. I don’t know anything about it… I have the absolute right as president to terminate. I said who appointed him, they said President Obama. I said look I’ll terminate him.’
President Trump: "I said who appointed him? They said President Obama. I said look I'll terminate him." pic.twitter.com/30uWTSIkX5
— The Hill (@thehill) May 18, 2020
Could Trump have spelled it out any more clearly that Linick was fired for political reasons? The whole point of officials like inspectors general and the FBI Director, who Trump has also fired, is to outlast the shifting tides of national politics and provide some kind of foundation for the rule of law. Trump doesn’t seem to care.
Trump has faced a lot of criticism from elsewhere. House Intel Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-N.Y.), for instance, commented:
‘Another Inspector General fired by Trump in the dead of night. Another apparent act of retaliation and cover up. To shield a loyal cabinet secretary from oversight and accountability. And undermine the rule of law. This surfeit of corruption must end. And soon.’
Another Inspector General fired by Trump in the dead of night.
Another apparent act of retaliation and cover up.
To shield a loyal cabinet secretary from oversight and accountability.
And undermine the rule of law.
This surfeit of corruption must end. And soon. https://t.co/fpH28bcjWu
— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) May 16, 2020