Top Democrats on Saturday launched an investigation into President Donald Trump’s firing of a US inspector-general, citing a pattern of politically motivated dismissals of government watchdogs.
Mr Trump notified Congress late on Friday that he was firing Steve Linick, inspector-general of the US Department of State, saying he no longer had “the fullest confidence” in the federal watchdog.
A senior White House official said on Saturday that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recommended the move, and President Trump agreed.
Democrats decried the move as part of a “dangerous pattern of retaliation” on the part of the US president.
On Saturday, Eliot Engel, the Democratic chair of the House foreign affairs committee, and Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate foreign relations committee, announced a probe into Mr Linick’s firing, soliciting documents from the White House, state department and inspector-general’s office.
“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. “We unalterably oppose the politically motivated firing of inspectors general and the president’s gutting of these critical positions.”
Mr Linick was a prosecutor and justice department official before being nominated by Barack Obama in 2013 to be inspector-general of the state department. His nomination was confirmed by the US Senate.
The inspector-general had been critical of the Trump administration, saying in an official report last November that some of the president’s appointees had retaliated against a career diplomat who was not seen as sufficiently loyal to Mr Trump.
Shortly after the firing, Mr Engel claimed that Mr Linick had also opened an investigation into Mr Pompeo, who came under sharp scrutiny during the president’s impeachment trial.
Mr Engel said Mr Linick’s firing was “the outrageous act of a president trying to protect one of his most loyal supporters, the secretary of state, from accountability”.
“I have learned that the Office of the Inspector General had opened an investigation into Secretary Pompeo,” Mr Engel added. “Mr Linick’s firing amid such a probe strongly suggests that this is an unlawful act of retaliation.”
The dismissal was also criticised by Chuck Grassley, the Republican chairman of the Senate finance committee, who said the inspectors-general were “crucial in correcting government failures and promoting the accountability that the American people deserve.”
“As I’ve said before, Congress requires written reasons justifying an IG’s removal,” he said. “A general lack of confidence simply is not sufficient detail to satisfy Congress.”
Last month, Mr Trump fired Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community’s inspector-general, who had a pivotal role in his impeachment proceedings last year. Mr Atkinson told lawmakers about a whistleblower complaint regarding the president’s dealings with Ukraine, which sparked the impeachment probe.
The president has also removed other officials involved in his impeachment, including Alexander Vindman, a former National Security Council official, and Gordon Sondland, the former US ambassador to the EU.
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House, said Mr Trump’s sacking of Mr Linick had “accelerated his dangerous pattern of retaliation against the patriotic public servants charged with conducting oversight on behalf of the American people.”
“Inspector-general Linick was punished for honourably performing his duty to protect the Constitution and our national security, as required by the law and by his oath,” she added.
Stephen Akard, an ally of US-vice president Mike Pence and longtime state department official, will replace Mr Linick in an acting capacity, though his appointment will need to be confirmed by the Senate.