As first reported by Meridith McGraw and Hahal Toosi at Politico, Donald Trump has purged yet another inspector general, State Department IG Steve Linick. His replacement will be Ambassador Stephen Akard, a former career Foreign Service officer with strong ties to Vice President Mike Pence. Akard will serve in an acting role because the State Department post is one of the 36 federal inspectors general—of 74 total—who must be confirmed by the Senate. Because of widespread opposition when Trump tried to appoint him director general of the Foreign Service in 2017, Akard withdrew his name for that nomination.
Like those fired before him, Linick was dumped for performing his watchdog job, which was causing discomfort in the White House where loyalty is only surpassed by flattery for anyone who wants to stay on the good side of the man squatting in the Oval Office.
Like three of the other IGs purged in the past six weeks, Linick’s ouster came late on a Friday. In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Trump expressed his lack of full confidence in the IG.
Like those fired others, Linick, a 2013 appointee of President Barack Obama, is being replaced by an appointee who can be counted on not to rock the boat despite that being fundamental to his task, which is not supposed to be ideologically motivated.
Pelosi tweeted in response: “The late-night, weekend firing of State Department IG Steve Linick is an acceleration of the President’s dangerous pattern of retaliation against the patriotic public servants charged with conducting oversight on behalf of the American people.”
The lack of confidence in Linick apparently stems from two reports his office produced that made the White House squirm because they concerned alleged retaliation by Trump political appointees against career employees. Also, during the impeachment proceedings, Linick hand-delivered 40 pages of information to congressional investigators looking into whether Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son Hunter Biden. The spark that apparently ignited his ouster, however, was an unfinished probe into whether Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had misused a political appointee to carry out personal tasks for him and his wife.
Several other Democrats weighed in on the firing. Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, tweeted "Another late Friday night attack on independence, accountability, and career officials. At this point, the president's paralyzing fear of any oversight is undeniable.”
Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut tweeted that “inspectors general are inconvenient, pesky brutes if your goal is turn the government into a cash cow for your friends, cronies and family.”
Pelosi said in a statement that Linick was “punished for honorably performing his duty to protect the Constitution and our national security, as required by the law and by his oath.”
And Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the intelligence committee in the House who eviscerated Trump repeatedly during the impeachment hearings, tweeted:
Previously late on a Friday, Trump has axed Health and Human Services IG Christi Grimm, Defense Department IG Glenn Fine, and Intelligence Community IG Michael Atkinson, all because he didn’t like what they were investigating or a report they had produced.
But as the citizen watchdog Project on Government Oversight (POGO) points out, 14 IG posts were already vacant or led by acting chiefs when Linick became No. 15. Those include IGs for the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of Defense, the Department of Education, the Department of Transportation, the Treasury, and the Federal Communications Commission.
Consequent to the Watergate scandal that toppled President Richard Nixon, Congress passed the Inspectors General Act of 1978 for a dozen federal agencies. Since then, another 62 IGs have been added. Just 36 require Senate confirmation. The rest are not considered important enough to require that process.
Their task, under the law, is to audit and investigate, promote “economy, efficiency, and effectiveness,” curb fraud, abuse, and waste, and review legislation affecting their agency or department. Agency chiefs supervise them but cannot block nor assign investigations. IGs hire their own staffs and have subpoena power.
POGO’s Executive Director Danielle Brian wrote at Fulcrum last month:
Inspectors general were created to make sure Congress has eyes and ears within executive agencies. Through audits, investigations and work with whistleblowers, these watchdogs are ensuring that you as a taxpayer are getting the greatest possible value from an executive branch that is supposed to serve you.
Failing to give all inspectors general protection against getting fired other than "for cause," like those enjoyed by the members of the Merit Systems Protection Board and the IG at the U.S. Postal Service, would be tantamount to Congress closing its eyes, throwing money at a problem — and just hoping for the best.
Congress last revamped the laws governing IGs a dozen years ago, most notably by giving them law enforcement powers. The House version of the bill, passed with strong bipartisan support, would have prevented any president from removing an IG for anything but good cause — such as violation of the law, neglect of duty and abuse of authority — but those protections were cut out in the Senate. Congress should now finish what the House started in 2008.
Just one of the zillion remedial actions a Democratic Congress and Democratic president will have to tackle come January 2021