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Democrats Launch Probe Into Trump's Firing Of State Department Inspector General

State Department Inspector General Steve Linick is pictured here in October 2019 leaving a meeting at the Capitol.
State Department Inspector General Steve Linick is pictured here in October 2019 leaving a meeting at the Capitol.

Congressional Democrats announced Saturday they're requesting all records and documents regarding President Trump's decision to fire State Department Inspector General Steve Linick, the fourth government watchdog Trump has fired or sought to remove in the last six weeks.

"We unalterably oppose the politically-motivated firing of inspectors general and the President's gutting of these critical positions," New York Rep. Eliot Engel, chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and New Jersey Sen. Robert Menedez, the top Democrat on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, wrote in a letter to the deputy secretary of state.

The Trump administration announced Friday evening that Linick will be replaced by Ambassador Stephen Akard, who currently directs the department's Office of Foreign Missions. Linick's removal is effective in 30 days.

A White House official told NPR on background Saturday that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recommended the move, "and President Trump agreed."

Engel said he'd learned that Linick had opened an investigation into Pompeo. A Democratic aide on Capitol Hill told NPR that the inspector general was investigating Pompeo's alleged misuse of a State Department political appointee who was performing personal tasks for the secretary and his wife.

"Such an action, transparently designed to protect Secretary Pompeo from personal accountability, would undermine the foundation of our democratic institutions and may be an illegal act of retaliation," the Engel and Menendez letter states.

The letter requests that administration officials preserve all records related to the firing and turn that information over to the Democrats' committees by Friday.

Asked about the removal on CBS' Face The NationSunday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., conceded that "the president has the right to fire any federal employee," but said the decision was "typical of the White House, announcing something that is very unsavory" late on a Friday.

Some Republicans criticized the move too.

Maine Sen. Susan Collins voiced concern on Twitter, saying, "The President has not provided the kind of justification for the removal of IG Linick required by [a 2008] law."

Utah Sen. Mitt Romney said in a tweet that the firings of multiple inspectors general were "unprecedented," and "doing so without good cause chills the independence essential to their purpose."

Romney was the lone Republican to vote for Trump's impeachment in his Senate trial.

Bill Richardson, a Democrat and former ambassador to the United Nations, was asked about the role of inspectors general on NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday.

"You have to respect their independence," he said. "They don't work for you; they work for the public, for the Congress, for openness. And this is being violated massively in this administration."

In early April, Trump fired the intelligence community's inspector general. He then removed the head of the group charged with overseeing a $2 trillion coronavirus relief package. And early this month, he moved to replace a watchdog at the Department of Health and Human Services who reported on hospital shortages of medical supplies.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.