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Grassley blocks 2 Trump nominees over refusal to explain watchdog firings

Lawmakers seek answers after state IG firing
Lawmakers seek answers after state IG firing 01:55

Republican Senator Chuck Grassley announced he will block two of President Trump's nominees until the administration offers a sufficient explanation for why the president fired two federal watchdogs tasked with rooting out fraud, waste and abuse.

Grassley placed "holds" on the nominations of Christopher Miller to be the director of the National Counterterrorism Center and Marshall Billingslea as undersecretary for arms control at the State Department. The Iowa Republican said he wouldn't allow either nomination to move forward until the administration explains the ousters, respectively, of Michael Atkinson as the intelligence community inspector general and State Department Inspector General Steve Linick.

"Im placing holds on 2 Trump Admin noms until I get reasons 4firing 2 agency watchdogs as required by law Not 1st time ive raised alarm when admins flout IG protection law Obama did same& got same earfull from me All I want is a reason 4 firing these ppl CHECKS&BALANCES," the Republican senator wrote in his trademark condensed style of tweeting. 

A "hold" is an informal parliamentary procedure that effectively allows any senator to prevent a nomination from reaching the Senate floor.

Grassley, who is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has expressed his deep dissatisfaction with the White House's explanation for the firings — that the president simply lost confidence in them and was well within his rights to replace them. In a span of six weeks, amid an all-consuming pandemic, Mr. Trump removed five officials from posts leading their respective agencies' inspector general offices. 

In a statement before the Senate on Thursday, Grassley pointed to the Inspector General Act of 1978, which requires the administration to provide a written explanation to Congress at least 30 days before an inspector general is removed.

"Though the Constitution gives the president the authority to manage executive branch personnel, Congress has made it clear that should the president find reason to remove an inspector general, there ought to be a good reason for it," Grassley's statement said. "The White House's response failed to address this requirement, which Congress clearly stated in statute and accompanying reports."

Grassley had demanded the White House provide reasoning for the president's decision to fire or replace the inspectors general, beyond the explanation that the president has the prerogative to do so. But in a letter to Grassley last week, White House counsel Pat Cipollone underlined the president's authority to oust inspectors general without providing details about why the watchdogs were removed. 

Grassley has long fought for the independence of inspectors general, both under Democratic and Republican administrations. 

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