Democrats in the US Congress on Saturday launched an investigation into US President Donald Trump’s move to oust the Department of State’s internal watchdog, accusing the president of escalating his fight against any oversight of his administration.
Trump announced the planned removal of Inspector General Steve Linick in a letter to US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi late on Friday night, making Linick the latest government inspector general to be ousted in recent weeks under the Republican president.
The top Democrats on the House and the Senate Foreign Relations Committees questioned the timing and motivation of what they called an “unprecedented removal.”
“We unalterably oppose the politically motivated firing of inspectors general and the President’s gutting of these critical positions,” House panel chairman Eliot Engel and Senator Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations panel, said in a statement announcing the probe.
They said it was their understanding that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo personally recommended Linick’s firing because the inspector general “had opened an investigation into wrongdoing by Secretary Pompeo himself.”
Asked about the investigation, a White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said: “Secretary Pompeo recommended the move and President Trump agreed.”
The State Department did not respond to a request for comment on the probe. It earlier said that Office of Foreign Missions Director Stephen Akard would take over the watchdog job.
Linick, who was appointed to the role in 2013 under former US president Barack Obama’s administration, is the fourth inspector general fired by Trump since early last month, following the president’s February acquittal by the Republican-led Senate in an impeachment trial.
Pelosi called the ousting an acceleration of a “dangerous pattern of retaliation.”
Trump last month removed a top coronavirus watchdog, Glenn Fine, who was to oversee the government’s COVID-19 financial relief response.
Trump also notified the Congress that he was firing the inspector general of the US intelligence community, Michael Atkinson, who was involved in triggering the impeachment investigation.
Earlier this month, Trump ousted Christi Grimm, who led the US Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General, after accusing her of having produced a “fake dossier” on hospitals suffering shortages on the frontlines of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Trump is methodically eliminating anyone who would bring wrongdoing to light,” US Senator Jeff Merkley, a Democrat on the Foreign Relations panel, tweeted.
Trump’s letter provided 30-days’ notice as required and said he no longer had confidence in Linick’s ability to serve as inspector general, but gave no specific reasons.
Engel and Menendez called on the administration to turn over any related documents by Friday.
Trump and his administration have repeatedly balked at Congress’ power to check the executive branch. It was not immediately clear what, if any, other action lawmakers would take outside the probe.
Walter Shaub, the former head of the US Office of Government Ethics, who exited after clashing with Trump, said the 30-day notice gave lawmakers a window to act, if they wanted to.
“It is part of a purge to remove legitimate watchdogs and replace them with loyalists,” he tweeted.
US Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican, said that citing “a general lack of confidence simply is not sufficient detail to satisfy Congress.”
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