Donald Trump’s removal of a State Department inspector is a bothersome end-around of a system that should be ensuring accountability.
Since 1978, the federal government has had a number (now 73) of inspectors general whose job it is to independently review actions of government agencies and military organizations. Through audits, these inspectors general have the authority to investigate accusations of misconduct, theft, fraud, waste or certain types of criminal activity within their individual agency, organization or unit.
In a disturbing trend over the last two months, President Donald Trump has dismissed or replaced four inspectors general who had either issued reports critical of the administration or were poised to do so. It’s within the president’s powers to fire and hire these powerful investigators, but that doesn’t mean his decisions can’t or shouldn’t be scrutinized by Congress.
The latest dismissal — State Department Inspector General Steve Linick — is particularly galling because it was requested of Trump by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The secretary claims he didn’t know that Linick was looking into allegations that Pompeo had used a State Department employee to do personal errands. More troubling were allegations by congressional Democrats that Linick was close to completing an investigation into whether the president had illegally issued an emergency declaration last May to move ahead on controversial weapons sales to Saudi Arabia without congressional approval.
“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, that was additive for the State Department, very consistent with what the statute says he’s supposed to be doing,” Pompeo said in a phone interview with the Washington Post. “The kinds of activities he’s supposed to undertake to make us better, to improve us.”
In other words, we didn’t like the way this independent overseer was doing his job investigating us. He wasn’t performing the “additive” or cheerleading function we tried to get him to. That, of course, is not his job. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton probably didn’t appreciate the work Linick did in 2016 when he issued the critical report on her use of a private email server that undoubtedly helped to damage her presidential campaign and elect Trump.
By all accounts, Linick, a former U.S. attorney, was a competent, even-handed inspector general who wasn’t afraid to upset his bosses, Democrat or Republican. That’s precisely what is needed in the position and precisely why his dismissal — and his replacement with a former Indiana state official who is a political ally of Vice President Mike Pence — is troubling and worth its own review by Congress.