Trump’s move infuriated Democrats who say he’s trying to circumvent oversight of his administration, undermining the ability of other branches to hold him accountable. The move follows Trump’s anger at being impeached, but it also comes as the White House struggles to combat the coronavirus pandemic just months before the presidential election.
“The president’s late-night, weekend firing of the State Department inspector general has accelerated his dangerous pattern of retaliation against the patriotic public servants charged with conducting oversight on behalf of the American people,” Pelosi said in an statement. “Inspector General Linick was punished for honorably performing his duty to protect the Constitution and our national security, as required by the law and by his oath.”
Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, called Linick’s dismissal an “outrageous act of a president trying to protect one of his most loyal supporters, the secretary of State, from accountability.”
Engel claimed: “I have learned that the Office of the Inspector General had opened an investigation into Secretary Pompeo. Mr. Linick’s firing amid such a probe strongly suggests that this is an unlawful act of retaliation.”
A Democratic congressional aide said Linick had launched an investigation into Pompeo’s alleged misuse of a political appointee to perform personal tasks for him and Mrs. Pompeo. The State Department did not respond to an inquiry about the allegation.
Linick played a minor role in the House of Representatives’ impeachment proceedings against Trump, ferrying a trove of documents to lawmakers that had been provided to the State Department by Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer.
A State Department spokesperson said that Amb. Stephen Akard, a former career Foreign Service officer, “will now lead the Office of the Inspector General at the State Department” in an acting capacity.
Akard had in 2017 been nominated to serve as the director general of the Foreign Service, a high-ranking human resources role.
That nomination upset veteran U.S. diplomats, who said Akard lacked the long tenure of service usually required for such a prestigious position. The American Academy of Diplomacy even wrote an unusual letter opposing his nomination.
Akard’s nomination as director general was eventually withdrawn, but he was later tapped for a different role, leading the Office of Foreign Missions, for which he was confirmed in September 2019.
Before joining the Trump administration, Akard was chief of staff for the Indiana Economic Development Corporation under then-governor Pence.
Linick is well-respected at the State Department, and his office stays busy, regularly churning out a range of inspections, audits and other types of reports.
His departure is likely to further deepen morale problems that have festered at State since the start of the Trump administration, when many career diplomats found themselves shunted aside and cast as a “deep state” bent on undermining Trump.
Two of Linick’s most-read reports over the past year involved alleged retaliation by Trump political appointees against career employees.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called Linick’s ouster “shameful.”
“Another late Friday night attack on independence, accountability, and career officials,” Menendez tweeted. “At this point, the president’s paralyzing fear of any oversight is undeniable.”
Trump has removed a number of federal watchdogs in the last few months, including Health and Human Services Inspector General Christi Grimm, who issued a report critical of the administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic; and the intelligence community’s inspector general, Michael Atkinson, whose handling of a whistleblower report ultimately led to Trump’s impeachment.
Separately, Trump also notified Congress on Friday of his intent to nominate Eric Soskin, a Justice Department trial counsel who has been involved in some hot-button immigration and civil rights cases, to be inspector general of the Department of Transportation. Soskin has worked in the Justice Department’s federal programs division as senior trial counsel for 14 years, according to a White House announcement.
Calvin Scovel retired as DOT inspector general earlier this year, after 13 years in the job.
Andrew Desiderio, Kyle Cheney and Brianna Gurciullo contributed reporting.