WASHINGTON — Less than 24 hours after the sudden firing of a State Department watchdog critical of personnel moves within the agency, a White House official said the ousting came on the advice of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Pompeo “recommended the move” and President Donald Trump “agreed,” the official said.
Friday night’s firing of State Department Inspector General Steve Linick came as he “was looking into the Secretary’s misuse of a political appointee at the Department to perform personal tasks for himself and Mrs. Pompeo,” a Democratic aide told NBC News.
House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot L. Engel, D-New York, said Friday that he learned Linick “had opened an investigation into Pompeo.
Trump informed Congress of the move in a letter Friday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, saying he “no longer” had full confidence in Linick.
“… it is vital that I have the fullest confidence in the appointees serving as Inspectors General,” Trump said in the letter. “That is no longer the case with regard to this Inspector General.”
U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, co-chair of the Whistleblower Protection Caucus, said Congress is entitled to a more thorough explanation of what triggered Linick’s removal. He called inspectors general “crucial in correcting government failures and promoting the accountability that the American people deserve.”
“As I’ve said before, Congress requires written reasons justifying an IG’s removal,” Grassley said. “A general lack of confidence simply is not sufficient detail to satisfy Congress.”
Grassley added that Linick filled the inspector general role after the Obama administration left it empty for several years.
“Although he failed to fully evaluate the State Department’s role in advancing the debunked Russian collusion investigation, those shortcomings do not waive the President’s responsibility to provide details to Congress when removing an IG,” Grassley said.
Engel and Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the ranking member the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, announced Saturday that they would launch a probe into the removal. They also requested that the Trump administration turn over records and information related to the firing by May 22.
Engel said he would be “looking into this matter in greater detail” in the days to come.
Trump has also fired intelligence community watchdog Michael Atkinson and Defense Department acting inspector general Glenn Fine.
Monica Alba reported from Washington and Alicia Victoria Lozano from Los Angeles.
Haley Talbot and Dennis Romero contributed.