May 22, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Top Democrats attempt to redefine why an inspector general can be fired

This image is a close-up of Trump

President Trump at the White House on May 22. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

House Democrats introduced a bill on Friday that would shrink the acceptable reasons the president could fire an inspector general.

Why it matters: Some Republican lawmakers have objected to a lack of information surrounding the ouster of State Department watchdog Steve Linick, who was fired last week after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asked President Trump to have him removed.

What they're saying: Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said Friday on Twitter that he had called the White House to discuss Linick's ouster after sending a letter to Trump requesting an explanation for the decision.

  • “The President has not provided the kind of justification for the removal of IG Linick required by this law,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) wrote last week on Twitter, after news broke that the watchdog would be removed.
  • “I want to hear what the explanation is,” Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said Monday, per the Hill, after acknowledging that Trump sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the move. “I’m sure we’ll have more conversations about it here in the next few days.”

Details: The bill, led by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and House Oversight chair Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), would amend the Inspector General Independence Act to allow a watchdog to be fired in cases of neglect of duty, gross mismanagement, waste of funds, inefficiency and violating the law, among other categories.

  • Trump wrote in a letter to Pelosi last week that he fired Linick because he "no longer" had confidence in him, which he also said about Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community's IG.

The big picture: Several watchdogs have been fired in recent months, including Mitchell Behm, who was the acting Department of Transportation inspector general. He was replaced by Howard Elliot, administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

  • The agency maintains that Behm was not removed from the position, since he was never officially appointed acting IG, and "was performing the duties of the IG during an absence."
  • "Behm was not removed or fired," an agency spokesperson told Axios. "He continues to serve in his long-time role as Deputy Inspector General."

Go deeper: Romney calls Trump's purge of IGs "a threat to accountable democracy"

Editor's note: This story has been updated with comment from the Department of Transportation.

Go deeper