Grassley Withdraws Hold on Trump Nominees After Getting Reasons for Firing of Inspector Generals

He also introduced a bipartisan bill to 'bolster inspector general protections'
June 19, 2020 Updated: June 19, 2020

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) on Thursday withdrew his objections to the nominations of two Trump nominees after he received two letters that outlined why President Donald Trump requested the removal of two inspector generals (IGs).

The Senate Finance Committee Chairman also announced a bipartisan bill that was introduced to “bolster inspector general protections.”

Grassley is withdrawing his objections to the nominations of two Trump nominees: Marshall Billingslea, of Virginia, to be Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, and Christopher C. Miller, of Virginia, to be Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

In a statement, Grassley said he received two letters on June 12 and that they meet a requirement of the Inspector General Reform Act (H.R.928), which says that the President needs to communicate to Congress the reasons for removing an inspector general (IG).

One of the letters came from the State Department regarding the removal of former State Department IG Steve Linick. It contained a copy of recent correspondence between the Trump administration to the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE). The letter requested that the CIGIE investigate specific allegations pertaining to Linick.

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

A second letter came from the White House Counsel regarding the removal of Michael Atkinson, the Intelligence Community IG. It repeats a previous letter from the White House that said that Trump had lost confidence in Atkinson. The White House Counsel also enclosed with the letter a transcript of Trump explaining his reasons in firing Atkinson to the press, and explained to Grassley that such reasons are Trump’s official explanation to Congress as to why Atkinson was removed.

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Michael Atkinson, Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, leaves a meeting in the Capitol in Washington on Oct. 4, 2019. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Trump had notified Congress his intention to fire Atkinson in early April, and Linick in mid-May, with both dismissals effective after 30 days.

“Although I do not agree with the President’s stated reasons for removing [IGs Atkinson and Linick], my objection to these nominees was designed to prompt compliance with the IG Reform Act, which the President has now done…” Grassley said in a statement.

Grassley later added that “although some may want to believe that this is a new issue unique to this administration, it certainly is not.”

“In July of 2009, then President Obama removed the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) Inspector General, Gerald Walpin from his post in a very similar manner and also did not provide reasons for removal … In that case, I similarly pushed for compliance with the statute, held up a nominee to obtain information, and disagreed with the stated reasons for Mr. Walpin’s removal. In the end, Mr. Walpin was never reinstated.”

“Given the misinterpretation of the statute by successive administrations from both political parties, it’s apparent that Congress must clarify the statute to ensure inspectors general are able to continue operating without undue interference,” the senator continued. “So I am introducing a bipartisan bill today to accomplish just that.”

Bipartisan Legislation

The bill—Securing Inspector General Independence Act (S. 3994) (pdf)—requires the president to “provide substantive rationale, including detailed and case-specific reasons” for the removal of an IG.

The bill also seeks to “ensure the independence of the IG community” by requiring an acting IG to be selected from “senior-level employees within the watchdog community.” The bill also requires regular training to IG employees on their whistleblower rights, to “protect the integrity of investigations and audits” during an IG transition.

Grassley noted in a statement that both Trump and former President Obama had used administrative leave “to effectively sideline IGs” during the 30-day period following announcing their removals. Grassley announced that the bill would therefore “limits the use of administrative leave for IGs, including during the 30 days following the removal announcement.”

“This bill spells out Congress’ expectations from the Executive Branch when the President decides to remove an IG, and prevents conflicts of interest that can arise when IGs are replaced with political appointees,” Grassley said in the statement.

The bill is also supported by Sens. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.).

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