Ron Johnson ‘not crying’ over Trump’s firing of State Department watchdog

The chairman of a key Senate oversight panel on Sunday backed President Donald Trump's late-Friday firing of the State Department's inspector general — the fourth federal watchdog to get the ax in recent months.

Trump on Friday removed State Department Inspector General Steve Linick and replaced him with an ally of Vice President Mike Pence. In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the president indicated he "no longer" had the "fullest confidence" in Linick and promised to send the Senate a nominee "who has my confidence and who meets the appropriate qualifications."

While the move infuriated many Democrats, at least one Republican senator appeared indifferent.

"I'm not crying big crocodile tears over this termination. Let's put it that way," Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union."

"In the end, they serve at the pleasure of the president," Johnson said of inspectors general, adding that Trump has "the authority to hire and terminate."

"I don't think anything that this administration could say is going to satisfy some people. There will still be people huffing and puffing and stomping their feet," he added. "But, again, it is the president's decision whether or not to hire or terminate an inspector general."

Linick had been investigating allegations involving Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, according to New York Rep. Eliot Engel, the Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The allegations were that Pompeo and his wife, Susan, had directed a political appointee to run personal errands for them.

Those errands included picking up their dry cleaning, walking their dog and making dinner reservations — details first reported by NBC News and confirmed to POLITICO on Sunday by a congressional aide.

Aides to Pompeo did not respond to messages seeking comment Sunday.

Not all Republican senators were comfortable with Linick's termination. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah on Saturday tweeted: "The firings of multiple Inspectors General is unprecedented; doing so without good cause chills the independence essential to their purpose.

"It is a threat to accountable democracy and a fissure in the constitutional balance of power," Romney continued.

Pelosi in a Sunday interview with CBS' Margaret Brennan called Linick's firing "unsavory" and said it was "typical of the White House" to do such a controversial move "late on a Friday night."

Trump in recent months has purged the federal government of several other watchdogs he apparently viewed as disloyal to him.

The president removed Christi Grimm, the acting inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services, who issued a report critical of the administration's response to the coronavirus pandemic; removed the intelligence community’s inspector general, Michael Atkinson, whose handling of a whistleblower report ultimately led to Trump’s impeachment in the House; and sidelined Glenn Fine, who had been tapped by a panel of inspectors general to oversee the group charged with monitoring the coronavirus relief effort.

Nahal Toosi contributed to this report.

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Lindsey Graham: ‘I’m not going to be the Republican Christopher Steele’

Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham addressed the president directly Sunday as he pledged to carefully investigate Joe Biden’s son.

“If he's watching the show, here's what I would tell the president: I'm going to get to the bottom of the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] process, because it was an abuse of power at the Department of Justice and the FBI,” said the South Carolina Republican on CBS‘ “Face the Nation.“

He added: “We'll make sure Hunter Biden's conflict of interest is explored, because it's legitimate.”

Graham’s appearance on “Face the Nation” was preceded by a somewhat cryptic tweet from President Donald Trump.

“DeFace the Nation will tell @LindseyGrahamSC that he must start up Judiciary and not stop until the job is done. Clean up D.C. now, last chance!” Trump posted this morning as the show was starting.

“Here's what I want to tell the president: I'm not going to be the Republican Christopher Steele. So, Rudy Giuliani last night said he's got the goods on Hunter Biden,” Graham said Sunday. “I called the attorney general this morning, and Richard Burr, the chairman of the Intel Committee, and they told me take very cautiously anything coming out of the Ukraine against anybody.”

Steele was the author of a 2016 intelligence report about Trump that drew widespread condemnation from Republicans because it was based on what they claimed to be phony sources from the former Soviet Union. Republicans also claimed that the Steele report was the basis of Democratic investigations into Trump.

Graham advocated for caution on accepting any information from Ukraine — the country at the center of Democrats’ now-closed impeachment inquiry into the president.

“I'm saying that anybody who has any information coming from the Ukraine needs to turn it over to the intelligence community,” Graham told host Margaret Brennan.

“What I'm trying to say — to the president and anybody else — that the Russians are still up to it. Deterrence is not working. So let's look at Hunter Biden's conflict. Let's look at Joe Biden,” Graham added. "But when it comes to documents coming out of the Ukraine, the Republicans and Democrats, be very cautious. Turn anything you’ve got over to the Intel Committee."

Brennan also asked Graham what he thought about Trump’s Friday ouster of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Gordon Sondland, former ambassador to the EU — both of whom testified in the House’s impeachment hearings.

“I think his reassignment was justified,” Graham said of Vindman. “I don't think he could be effective at the [National Security Council].”

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