No Watchdog Firing Details in WH Letter05/27 06:43
The White House said that President Donald Trump followed the law when he
fired multiple inspectors general in the last two months, but the
administration offered no new details about why they were let go.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The White House said that President Donald Trump followed
the law when he fired multiple inspectors general in the last two months, but
the administration offered no new details about why they were let go.
A White House letter issued Tuesday in response to concerns from a prominent
Republican senator does little to explain the decision-making behind Trump's
recent upheaval of the inspector general community. It is unlikely to quell
outrage from Democrats and good-government groups who fear the president is
moving to dismantle a post-Watergate network of watchdogs meant to root out
corruption, fraud and other problems inside federal agencies.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa a longtime, self-appointed defender of
inspectors general and congressional oversight requested that the White
House explain the basis for the firings in April and May of the inspectors
general for the intelligence community and the State Department.
The response Tuesday from White House counsel Pat Cipollone does not provide
those details, instead making the points that Trump has the authority to remove
inspectors general, that he appropriately alerted Congress and that he selected
qualified officials as replacements.
"When the President loses confidence in an inspector general, he will
exercise his constitutional right and duty to remove that officer as did
President Reagan when he removed inspectors general upon taking office and as
did President Obama when he was in office," Cipollone wrote.
The tumult has not been limited to the watchdog offices at the State
Department and intelligence community.
Trump also demoted Glenn Fine from his role as acting inspector general at
the Pentagon, effectively removing him as head of a special board to oversee
auditing of the coronavirus economic relief package. Fine resigned Tuesday.
And he moved to replace the chief watchdog at the Department of Health and
Human Services, Christi Grimm, who testified Tuesday that her office was moving
ahead with new reports and audits on the department's response to the
coronavirus despite Trump's public criticism of her.
Taken together, the moves have raised alarms about efforts to weaken
government oversight and about possible retaliation for investigations or
actions seen as unfavorable to the administration.
Michael Atkinson, who was fired as intelligence community inspector general
last month, advanced a whistleblower complaint that resulted in the president's
impeachment. Democrats say Steve Linick was fired as State Department inspector
general as he was conducting investigations tied to Secretary of State Mike
Grassley said Tuesday that he was dissatisfied with the White House's lack
of explanation, saying: "Congress made clear that if the president is going to
fire an inspector general, there ought to be a good reason for it. The White
House Counsel's response failed to address this requirement."
Grassley, a Trump ally, said he does not dispute Trump's authority under the
Constitution to fire an inspector general, but added: "Without sufficient
explanation, it's fair to question the president's rationale for removing an
inspector general. If the president has a good reason to remove an inspector
general, just tell Congress what it is."
Grassley, who bristles at criticism that he has gone easy on Trump, also
criticized the White House for allowing two acting inspectors general at
the State and Transportation departments to hold separate jobs within those
agencies at same time.
Stephen Akard, State's new acting inspector general, also serves as
Senate-confirmed director of the Office of Foreign Missions, where he oversees
the treatment of foreign missions and their representatives in the United
Howard "Skip" Elliott, the new acting inspector general at Transportation,
is administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration,
a key Transportation agency. He has pledged to recuse himself from
investigations into the pipeline agency.
"The White House Counsel's letter does not address this glaring conflict of
interest," Grassley said. "Congress established inspectors general to serve the
American people to be independent and objective watchdogs, not agency
Grassley said he has long made it clear that "acting inspectors general
should not be political appointees in order to preserve the independence
required of the office," adding that he is working with Senate colleagues on
legislation to codify that principle.