When he was abruptly fired, State Department Inspector General Steve Linick was investigating Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's decision to approve arms sales to Saudi Arabia against the will of Congress congressional officials told NBC News. Linick was appointed to the post by President Obama in 2013.
Linick had also opened an investigation into the illegal use of government employees to run personal errands for Secretary of State Pompeo and his wife Susan. Two congressional aide said that Pompeo and his wife were accused of improperly directing a political appointee and diplomatic security agents to run personal errands for them, such as picking up Chinese food, retrieving the family dog, Sherman, from a groomer and trips to the drycleaners. A White House official told NBC News that Pompeo asked President Trump to fire Linick, which Trump promptly did.
Rep. Eliot Engel (D, NY) said, "I have learned that there may be another reason for Mr. Linick's firing," The chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee said, "Linick's office was investigating at my request Trump's phony declaration of an emergency so he could send weapons to Saudi Arabia."
In the last few months, Donald Trump fired three other Inspectors General: Glenn Fine, the Inspector General for the Defense Department, Michael Atkinson, the Inspector General for the Intelligence Community and Christi Grimm, the principal deputy inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services. Atkinson, appointed by President Trump in 2018, was fired after he received a whistleblower complaint about the President's blackmailing of Ukrainian President VolodymyrZelensky. Atkinson determined the complaint to be credible and was required by federal law to disclose the complaint to Congress.
Atkinson said, "The American people deserve an honest and effective government. They are counting on you to use authorized channels to bravely speak up there is no disgrace for doing so." The Intelligence Community's Inspector General added: "Please do not allow recent events to silence your voices."
There is no precedent for so many firings of inspectors general in such a short time period. Obama fired one inspector general over an eight-year period citing job performance issues. President Ronald Reagan tried to remove several IGs but reversed himself after aides told him that watchdogs are not political appointees in the traditional sense.
The President Must State a Reason for Firing an Inspector General
The Inspector General Act provides, "An Inspector General may be removed from office by the President. The President shall communicate the reasons for any such removal to both Houses of Congress." President Trump did not state any specific reasons for removing any of these inspector generals and violated the letter and the spirit of the Inspector General law. Linick's removal drew criticism from Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, co-chair of the Whistleblower Protection Caucus, who said Congress needs written reasons justifying a removal. "A general lack of confidence is simply not sufficient," Grassley said.
Trump's violation of federal law is probably not enforceable, but Secretary Pompeo's violation of law is. The law states, "Neither the head of the establishment nor the officer next in rank below such head shall prevent or prohibit the Inspector General from initiating, carrying out, or completing any audit or investigation, or from issuing any subpoena during the course of any audit or investigation." Since Secretary Pompeo sought the removal of the IG inquiring into his abuse of power, Pompeo clearly violated the Inspector General statute. Under the law, Pompeo was the "head of the establishment," the State Department, and undeniably acted to prevent or prohibit Mr. Linick from completing his investigation.
The Whistleblower Protection Act, or WPA, was passed in 1989 to protect disclosures of misconduct by government officials. This law protects federal employees who disclose illegal or improper government activities, as well as those investigating the fraud or illegal conduct.
The WPA shields federal employees from retaliatory action once the employee voluntarily discloses information regarding dishonest or illegal activities within a government organization. The government cannot take action against, or threaten to take action against the employee. This means the government can't fire, demote, suspend, threaten, harass, or discriminate against a whistleblower.
Secretary Pompeo could be sued or prosecuted for violating the Whistleblower Protection Act because he sought the firing of Inspector General Steve Linick. It is also possible that President Trump could be sued or prosecuted for violating the Whistleblower Protection Act for firing all four Inspectors General, since all the IGs were whistleblowers or protecting whistleblowers.
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