2 Congressional Democrats Probe Firing of State Department Inspector General

May 16, 2020 Updated: May 19, 2020

Two top Democrats have begun an investigation into the late-night firing of State Department Inspector General Steve Linick, following concerns that the move may be politically motivated.

Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), who chairs the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced the probe May 16, saying that they had requested the White House, State Department, and the State Department Office of Inspector General to preserve all records related to the firing and to hand over those documents to the two committees by May 22.

Late on May 15, President Donald Trump notified Congress of his intention to dismiss Linick, saying that the inspector general no longer had his “fullest confidence.” Linick, who will be removed in 30 days, is to be replaced by Ambassador Stephen Akard, the State Department said in a statement.

Linick is the latest independent watchdog to be replaced this year. In April, Trump announced the dismissal of Michael Atkinson, the inspector general (IG) for the Intelligence Community who handled the anonymous whistleblower complaint that triggered the House Democratic-led impeachment inquiry against Trump. Glenn Fine, the acting inspector general for the Department of Defense, also was removed in April after he was named to lead a watchdog committee overseeing how the $2.2 trillion CCP virus relief package is being spent.

Engel and Menendez raised concerns about the pattern of IG dismissals, saying in a statement that they “unalterably oppose the politically motivated firing of inspectors general and the President’s gutting of these critical positions.”

The two lawmakers claimed, citing media reports, that Linick was fired after he had opened an investigation into alleged wrongdoing by State Department Secretary Mike Pompeo, while the timing of the move suggests that it could be an “act of retaliation.” The lawmakers didn’t provide any details.

“President Trump’s unprecedented removal of Inspector General Linick is only his latest sacking of an inspector general, our government’s key independent watchdogs, from a federal agency,” the lawmakers said.

The State Department didn’t immediately respond to inquiries from The Epoch Times about the circumstances of Linick’s dismissal.

The lawmakers are asking the administration to hand over records and information on the firing of Linick, information about his replacement Akard, and records of inspector general investigations involving the Office of the Secretary at the time of Linick’s firing.

Linick, an Obama appointee, had served in the role since 2013. Before that, he served as the first inspector general of the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Prior to that, he supervised fraud cases at the Department of Justice.

Linick’s office investigated former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server in 2016. A May 2016 report (pdf) concluded that Clinton had violated federal rules but also noted that there existed “systemic weaknesses,” and made eight recommendations to the State Department at the time.

Following Trump’s notice, Democratic lawmakers expressed opposition and called for a probe into the ouster. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement that the firing was particularly concerning, because it comes after the “House passes The Heroes Act, which contains critical funding for the State Department IG to oversee and ensure the effective, wise spending of coronavirus response funds.”

This also follows an announcement by Trump earlier this month that he would nominate Jason Weida to be the permanent inspector general to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), to fill the duties of Christi Grimm, the HHS’s principal deputy inspector general who had been running the office since January.

Her office in early April released a report (pdf) that said there was a shortage of supplies and testing at hospitals. Trump later accused Grimm’s report as being a “fake dossier” in a statement on Twitter. He also called the findings of the report “wrong” during a White House briefing on the CCP virus.

Mimi Nguyen-Ly contributed to this report.

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