The chairman of a key Senate oversight panel on Sunday backed President Donald Trump’s late-Friday firing of the State Department’s inspector general — the fourth federal watchdog to get the ax in recent months.
Trump on Friday removed State Department Inspector General Steve Linick and replaced him with an ally of Vice President Mike Pence. In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the president indicated he “no longer” had the “fullest confidence” in Linick and promised to send the Senate a nominee “who has my confidence and who meets the appropriate qualifications.”
While the move infuriated many Democrats, at least one Republican senator appeared indifferent.
“I’m not crying big crocodile tears over this termination. Let’s put it that way,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“In the end, they serve at the pleasure of the president,” Johnson said of inspectors general, adding that Trump has “the authority to hire and terminate.”
“I don’t think anything that this administration could say is going to satisfy some people. There will still be people huffing and puffing and stomping their feet,” he added. “But, again, it is the president’s decision whether or not to hire or terminate an inspector general.”
Linick had been investigating allegations involving Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, according to New York Rep. Eliot Engel, the Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The allegations were that Pompeo and his wife, Susan, had directed a political appointee to run personal errands for them.
Those errands included picking up their dry cleaning, walking their dog and making dinner reservations — details first reported by NBC News and confirmed to POLITICO on Sunday by a congressional aide.
Aides to Pompeo did not respond to messages seeking comment Sunday.
Not all Republican senators were comfortable with Linick’s termination. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah on Saturday tweeted: “The firings of multiple Inspectors General is unprecedented; doing so without good cause chills the independence essential to their purpose.
“It is a threat to accountable democracy and a fissure in the constitutional balance of power,” Romney continued.
Pelosi in a Sunday interview with CBS’ Margaret Brennan called Linick’s firing “unsavory” and said it was “typical of the White House” to do such a controversial move “late on a Friday night.”
Trump in recent months has purged the federal government of several other watchdogs he apparently viewed as disloyal to him.
The president removed Christi Grimm, the acting inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services, who issued a report critical of the administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic; removed the intelligence community’s inspector general, Michael Atkinson, whose handling of a whistleblower report ultimately led to Trump’s impeachment in the House; and sidelined Glenn Fine, who had been tapped by a panel of inspectors general to oversee the group charged with monitoring the coronavirus relief effort.
Nahal Toosi contributed to this report.