This week, the current top oversight official at the State Department abruptly quit. Stephen Akard had been serving as the acting inspector general at the department in the wake of the firing of Steve Linick from the post earlier this year, but now — with little explanation — Akard is leaving the post and, apparently, leaving government altogether. Linick had originally been fired amidst political animosity over his investigation of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Akard, in contrast, was a clear political ally of the Trump administration, having been described by AFP this week as “a longtime aide to Vice President Mike Pence.” The outlet also noted that Akard’s “installation in May had widely been seen as a way to keep a friendly figure in the role.”
A State Department spokesperson said that officials at the department “appreciate his dedication to the Department and to our country.” Akard will be replaced by Diana Shaw, who is “a lawyer and veteran of the watchdog’s office,” AFP notes. According to normal chain-of-command protocol, Shaw was the one who was supposed to become acting Inspector General at the State Department after Linick’s firing in the first place. Yet, the Trump administration circumvented protocol in order to install an apparent political loyalist in the post.
Linick’s two investigations that seem to have most irked the Trump administration included a probe into a weapons sale to Saudi Arabia and an investigation into Pompeo’s usage of government employees for personal errands like walking his dog. According to AFP, “Akard’s departure comes just as his office finalizes a report on Pompeo’s controversial decision to bypass Congress to sell $8.1 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia and other Arab allies.” Originally, the Trump administration used emergency powers to bypass Congressional oversight, claiming — on paper, at least — that the arms sales to the Saudis were necessary in order to counter the security threat from the Iranian regime. In reality, the weapons that the U.S. has provided to the Saudis have already been used for attacks that have killed civilians in Yemen. These civilians have, of course, zero connection to a supposed Iranian threat.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee and its chairman, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), have been investigating Linick’s original firing. On Monday, the committee issued a set of four subpoenas demanding testimony from top Pompeo aides about the issue.
In a joint statement, Engel, House Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee said:
‘The Administration continues to cover up the real reasons for Mr. Linick’s firing by stonewalling the Committees’ investigation and refusing to engage in good faith. That stonewalling has made today’s subpoenas necessary.’
Linick is not the first oversight official who was removed amidst conflict with the politics of the Trump administration. Trump has also, for instance, fired Michael Atkinson from his role as the inspector general overseeing the intelligence community. Atkinson forwarded the whistleblower complaint to Congress that helped reveal Trump’s attempt to bribe Ukraine into investigating the Bidens and, in turn, kickstarted the impeachment proceedings against him. Trump was — yet again — more concerned about news of the misconduct getting out than he was about the misconduct itself.