President Donald Trump is removing State Department Inspector General Steve Linick from his position in what Rep. Eliot Engel is calling a potential act of “retaliation” for opening an investigation into Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Engel, the Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement that Linick had recently opened an investigation into Pompeo. The congressman provided no other details. But Engel noted the timing suggested “an unlawful act of retaliation” and said he would press the State Department for answers.
Linick, a Justice Department veteran appointed in 2013, is the latest of a number of watchdogs ejected recently as Trump seeks to purge anyone from the government he believes has not been loyal to him.
“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,” Trump wrote in a letter sent late Friday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). The letter stated that the dismissal will be effective in 30 days.
Linick played a minor role in the House impeachment proceedings against Trump, noted Politico, which was the first to report his ouster. He provided documents to House leaders that had been given to the State Department by Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.
Pelosi slammed Linick’s removal as part of a “dangerous pattern of retaliation against patriotic public servants charged with conducting oversight on behalf of the American people.”
Ambassador Stephen Akard, a State Department appointee who worked for Vice President Mike Pence when he was governor of Indiana, has been tapped as Linick’s interim replacement. Akard was Pence’s chief of staff for the Indiana Economic Development Corp.
A State Department representative told Politico that Akard, a former foreign service officer, “will now lead the Office of the Inspector General at the State Department” in an “acting” role.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) called the “Friday night attack” by Trump “shameful.” He added in a tweet: “At this point, the President’s paralyzing fear of any oversight is undeniable.”
Walter Shaub, former head of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics under both Barack Obama and Trump, praised Linick as an “honorable” inspector general who “dug in on issues, not politics.” He pointed out that Linick had once written a critical report on Democrat Hillary Clinton for keeping emails on a personal server while she was secretary of state.
Shaub accused Trump of “tearing down the fabric of our republic” with his vendetta against inspectors general. He pointed out that the law requiring Trump to give Congress 30 days notice of Linick’s removal gives lawmakers time to fight his decision.
Just weeks ago Trump removed Christi Grimm as principal deputy inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services after her office criticized his administration’s response to the COVID-19 crisis.
Trump also forced out acting Pentagon Inspector General Glenn Fine, who had been chosen as chairman of the federal panel Congress created to oversee management of the government’s $2 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package.