Washington — A group of House Democratic leaders are demanding President Trump reinstate Steve Linick to his post as State Department inspector general and said his firing appears to be part of a campaign mounted by the Trump administration to undermine internal government watchdogs who aim to root out wrongdoing within the federal government.
Four Democrats — House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, Subcommittee on Government Operations head Gerry Connolly and Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations chief Joaquin Castro — sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday denouncing Linick's removal, which Congress was informed of late Friday.
"Based on longstanding concerns with your actions — and new reports this week about potential abuses — this assault on the integrity and independence of inspectors general appears to be an intentional campaign to undermine their ability to expose corruption and protect taxpayer dollars from waste, fraud, and abuse," the Democrats wrote.
Linick has served as the State Department's internal watchdog since 2013, and his removal prompted Engel and Senator Robert Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to open an investigation. Engel said earlier this week that Linick's office was investigating the Trump administration's emergency declaration to fast-track an arms deal with Saudi Arabia, and several outlets have reported the inspector general was examining whether Pompeo had a State Department aide complete personal tasks.
NBC News also reported this week that Pompeo was hosting so-called "Madison Dinners" at the State Department with business leaders, Republican politicians and donors, ambassadors and media figures. It's unclear whether Linick's office was probing the taxpayer-funded affairs.
Mr. Trump told reporters this week he didn't know Linick and had "never even heard of him," but said Pompeo asked him to terminate the inspector general. Pompeo confirmed during a State Department briefing Wednesday he recommended Linick's firing and said it should have been done "some time ago."
The Democrats said Mr. Trump's reasoning regarding Linick's removal is "not an adequate basis" to get rid of an inspector general and suggested Pompeo was retaliating against him.
"It appears that you may have taken this step because the inspector general's office has been investigating your actions as secretary, including allegations that you improperly directed appointees to perform personal tasks, as well as your role in the president's decision to sell billions of dollars of weapons to Saudi Arabia last year under an emergency declaration," they wrote.
Pompeo rebuffed the suggestion Linick's firing was an act of retribution Wednesday, telling reporters the claim was "patently false."
The four House Democrats asked Pompeo to turn over documents related to the Madison Dinners, as well as guest lists and manifests for each event, and expressed their opposition to Mr. Trump's selection of Stephen Akard to serve as acting inspector general.
"Ambassador Akard lacks the independence, qualifications, and experience necessary to be an effective inspector general," they wrote.
Linick is the fifth inspector general to be removed or replaced in six weeks.