Democrats demanded on Saturday that the White House hand over all records related to President Donald Trump’s latest firing of a federal watchdog, this time at the State Department, and they suggested Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was responsible, in what “may be an illegal act of retaliation.”
“We unalterably oppose the politically-motivated firing of inspectors general and the President’s gutting of these critical positions,” the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee wrote in a letter to the administration announcing their investigation.
Trump announced late Friday that he was firing the inspector general, Steve Linick, an Obama administration appointee whose office was critical of what it saw as political bias in the State Department’s management. The ouster was one more move by the president against independent executive branch watchdogs who have found fault with his administration.
New York Rep. Eliot Engel and New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez sent letters to the White House, the State Department and the inspector general’s office asking that administration officials preserve all records related to Linick’s dismissal and provide them to the committees by this coming Friday.
They promised to “look deeply into this matter” and said they would seek to interview White House officials. They said they “trust that the White House will co-operate fully with our investigation.”
A senior department official said Trump removed Linick from his job on Friday but gave no reason for the action. In a letter to Congress, Trump said Linick, who had held the job since 2013, no longer had his full confidence and that his removal would take effect in 30 days. Trump did not mention Linick by name in his letter.
Democrats soon cried foul. Engel suggested Linick was fired in part in retaliation for opening an unspecified investigation into Pompeo.
Engel offered no details. Two congressional aides said it involved allegations that Pompeo may have improperly treated staff. Linick’s office has issued several reports critical of the department’s handling of personnel matters during the Trump administration, including accusing some political appointees of retaliating against career officials.
Engel and Menendez said it was ”their understanding” that Pompeo recommended that Linick be fired because the watchdog was investigating “wrongdoing” by the Cabinet officer. They gave no specifics, but said such a move “may be an illegal act of retaliation.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Linick was “punished for honourably performing his duty to protect the Constitution and our national security.” She said Trump ”must cease his pattern of reprisal and retaliation against the public servants who are working to keep Americans safe, particularly during this time of global emergency.”
Linick, whose office also took issue with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she served as America’s top diplomat, played a minor role in the Ukraine impeachment investigation into Trump.
In October, Linick turned over documents to House investigators that he had received from State Department Counselor T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, a close Pompeo associate, which contained information from debunked conspiracy theories about Ukraine’s role in the 2016 election.