Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) on Sunday dismissed Democratic and Republican lawmakers’ concerns about President Donald Trump firing a watchdog responsible for investigating the State Department.
The president fired Steve Linick on Friday, saying he “no longer” had the “fullest confidence” in the State Department’s inspector general. The dismissal was widely viewed as part of Trump’s effort to remove investigators he deems disloyal to him personally, as Linick was conducting an investigation into potential misconduct by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel called the firing an “unlawful act of retaliation.”
Linick is the fourth inspector general Trump has fired in less than two months.
Johnson downplayed his congressional colleagues’ concerns that Trump may have fired the IG to protect someone close to him.
“I’m very mindful of the fact that inspector generals don’t work for Congress,” Johnson said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “They actually work for the administration.”
Johnson said inspectors general deserve independence within their agency while conducting investigations, but that “they serve at the president’s will.”
“I’m not going to discuss my private conversations with senior administration officials,” the senator said when host Jake Tapper asked what gave him the impression that Trump had a good reason for the firing.
“My guess is this will all come out,” said Johnson, who has long been a vocal Trump ally.
A number of Republican senators have been critical of Linick’s firing.
“The president has not provided the kind of justification for the removal of IG Linick required by this law,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said that “a general lack of confidence simply is not sufficient detail to satisfy Congress.”
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) called Trump’s string of firings “unprecedented” and warned they could “chill the independence” needed for agencies to function.