Grassley Says White House ‘Failed’ to Justify Trump’s Firing of Watchdogs

May 27, 2020 Updated: May 27, 2020

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has expressed dissatisfaction with a White House response to his concerns over the rationale for President Donald Trump’s firing of two inspectors general.

Grassley, in a statement Tuesday, acknowledged Trump’s “constitutional and statutory authority” in dismissing the inspectors general for the State Department and Intelligence Community but noted that White House Counsel Pat Cipollone failed to provide sufficient justification for the firing.

“The White House Counsel’s response failed to address this requirement, which Congress clearly stated in statute and accompanying reports. I don’t dispute the president’s authority under the Constitution, but without sufficient explanation, it’s fair to question the president’s rationale for removing an inspector general,” Grassley said.

Grassley said that without providing a solid justification for the dismissals, “the American people will be left speculating whether political or self interests are to blame. That’s not good for the presidency or government accountability.”

The Iowa lawmaker, a longtime defender of government watchdogs, earlier demanded answers from the Trump administration for the removal of Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson and State Department Inspector General Steve Linick.

Cipollone responded in a letter on Tuesday (pdf), saying that “President Trump appreciates and respects your longstanding support for the role that inspectors general play,” but that “when the President loses confidence in an inspector general, he will exercise his constitutional right and duty to remove that officer—as did President Reagan when he removed inspectors general upon taking office and as did President Obama when he was in office.”

Grassley, responding to Cipollone’s letter, stated that, “Government Accountability isn’t only a Republican issue or a Democrat issue. Inspectors general shouldn’t be politically motivated or politically targeted. And those of us in Congress have a duty to promote accountability, regardless of who is in office.”

Trump’s firing of Atkinson earlier this year prompted Grassley and other senators to call for a detailed justification.

“Congressional intent is clear that an expression of lost confidence, without further explanation, is not sufficient to fulfill the requirements of the statute. This is in large part because Congress intended that inspectors general only be removed when there is clear evidence of wrongdoing or failure to perform the duties of the office, and not for reasons unrelated to their performance, to help preserve [inspector general] independence,” they wrote.

Following the dismissal of Linick, Grassley similarly called on the White House to provide an explanation.

“Congress requires written reasons justifying an IG’s removal. A general lack of confidence simply is not sufficient detail to satisfy Congress,” Grassley, co-chair of the Whistleblower Protection Caucus, wrote in a statement.

steve linick
U.S. State Department Inspector General Steve Linick departs the U.S. Capitol in Washington, on October 2, 2019. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Cipollone said in his letter to Grassley that Trump fired Linick at the request of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“As the Secretary of State has said publicly about his Department’s inspector general, the President exercised this authority at the Secretary’s recommendation,” the White House counsel wrote.

Trump told Congress in a May 15 letter that he had decided to dismiss Linick, stating: “It is vital that I have the fullest confidence in the appointees serving as Inspectors General. That is no longer the case with regard to this Inspector General.”

In his call for justification of Linick’s dismissal, Grassley said that while he objected to how the watchdog handled the inquiry into the role the State Department played in the controversial Trump-Russia collusion probe, he said the important role inspectors general play in American democracy demands a detailed explanation in case of firing.

“Here again, inspectors general are crucial in correcting government failures and promoting the accountability that the American people deserve,” Grassley said. “Although he failed to fully evaluate the State Department’s role in advancing the debunked Russian collusion investigation, those shortcomings do not waive the President’s responsibility to provide details to Congress when removing an IG.”

Earlier, Grassley and Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin sent Linick a letter, in which they raised a series of questions about his inquiry into a key October 2016 meeting between top State Department officials and British ex-spy Christopher Steele, who compiled a controversial dossier that played a key role in launching the probe into the Trump campaign.

Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General Michael Horowitz criticized the DOJ and the FBI for at least 17 “significant errors and omissions” related to the bureau’s reliance on Steele’s discredited dossier and to Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants against former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

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