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with Brent D. Griffiths

In the Agencies

OVERSIGHT UNSEEN: Ousted State Department Inspector General Steve Linick is the latest victim of President Trump's purge of high-profile officials critical of his administration. 

Just last month, Trump ejected two watchdogs: Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community inspector general, and acting Defense Department watchdog General Glenn Fine. And earlier in May, he announced a new inspector general at the Health and Human Services Department to replace Christi Grimm, who released a report on noval coronavirus testing problems and shortages of personal protective gear for front line workers.

But it's Linick's firing that is raising the most questions, even among Republican lawmakers.

Pompeo only vaguely criticized Linick in an interview with our colleague Carol Morello, leaving room for question about why exactly he directed the president to remove Linick and replace him with an ally of Vice President Pence. 

  • “I went to the president and made clear to him that Inspector General Linick wasn’t performing a function in a way that we had tried to get him to, that was additive for the State Department, very consistent with what the statute says he’s supposed to be doing,” Pompeo told Carol. “The kinds of activities he’s supposed to undertake to make us better, to improve us.”
  • But among State Department employees, views of Linick exposed a divide, Josh Hudson and Carol Morello report: “Many career officials viewed Linick as a dogged investigator of malfeasance who cultivated a reputation for diligence and relentlessness. But for the secretary’s handpicked advisers who found themselves on the wrong end of his investigations, the former prosecutor could be a source of frustration and embarrassment, said four U.S. officials familiar with the matter.”

Since his firing, it has emerged that Linick's office was investigating an emergency declaration by the president last year enabling a controversial arms sale to Saudi Arabia and allegations that a staffer was performing personal errands and chores for Pompeo. 

  • NBC News's Dennis Romero and Haley Talbot first reported that Linick was “looking into the Secretary's misuse of a political appointee at the Department to perform personal tasks for himself and Mrs. Pompeo.
  • “That included walking the dog, picking up dry-cleaning and making restaurant reservations, one said — an echo of the whistleblower complaint from last year,” the New York Times's Edward Wong confirmed.
  • Pompeo denied the move was retaliatory, claiming he is not notified of any investigation until just before it is publicly released: “I simply don’t know. I’m not briefed on it,” he told Carol.
  • As for Linick's investigation into last year's $8 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia, “ … Pompeo refused to sit for an interview with the State Department inspector general's office as part of its probe into the administration's move to bypass Congress,” CNN's Zachary Cohen reports
  • “We don’t have the full picture yet, but it’s troubling that [Pompeo] wanted Mr. Linick pushed out before this work could be completed,” House Foreign Affairs Chair Eliot L. Engel said in a statement to The Post's Greg Sargent.

Ride or die: Nonetheless, Trump came to Pompeo's defense regarding the allegations and claimed he didn't know why Pompeo asked him to terminate Linick. 

  • “I've never heard of him I have the absolute right as president to terminate,” Trump told reporters. “When someone pays us a fortune for arms, we should get the deal done,” Trump added of a potential investigation into his emergency declaration.
  • On Pompeo dismissing Linick over staff misuse: “Look, he's a high quality person, Mike. He's a very high quality, he's a very brilliant guy,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “And now I have you telling me about dog walking, washing dishes and, you know what, I'd rather have him on the phone with some world leader than have him wash dishes because maybe his wife isn't there or his kids aren't there, you know,” Trump said.

But Republicans, who have until this point largely remained mum on the spate of IG firings, are asking for more information about this ones. Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) wrote Monday in a letter to Trump  that “an expression of lost confidence, without further explanation, is not sufficient to fulfill the requirements of the IG reform act."

  • One of the requirements of the Inspector General Reform Act of 2008 is “the President provide notice and explanation to Congress 30 days before the removal of an IG,” Grassley writes.
  • IGs “should be free from partisan political interference, from either the Executive or Legislative branch. I want to work with you to ensure that the enemy here is wasteful government spending, not the government watchdogs charged with protecting the taxpayer,” Grassley concludes. “To that end, please provide a detailed reasoning for the removal of [Linick] no later than June 1, 2020.:
  • “If the president has removed the inspector general because of any investigation he is carrying out, that would be contrary to the law,” Ron Neumann, the president of the American Academy of Diplomacy, told John and Carol.

More legal protections on the way?: “The House in 2008 passed a measure that would have required the president to have ‘cause,’ to include abuse of authority, malfeasance and conviction of a felony or conduct involving moral turpitude. But the measure failed in the Senate,” according to our colleague Ellen Nakashima.

  • Danielle Brian, the executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, is one of a handful of experts who believe additional legal protections are needed to protect inspectors general: “The only way we will be able to save the entire IG system is if the Congress passes those protections,” Brian told Ellen, “because what’s happened this week is going to make it impossible for any IG to be able to conduct their job with the vigor you would want — because they know they’ll get fired.” 
  • Asked whether he believes additional legislation is needed to protect IGs, Grassley told CNN's Manu Raju earlier in May that " … we have plenty of laws to protect inspectors general.

At least one Republican has been outspoken on the issuet: Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) tore into Trump over the weekend on Twitter over the firings. 

  • 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 tweeted.
  • The tweet appeared to have caught the attention of the president who attacked Romney on Monday, calling him a “LOSER” on Twitter.

At The White House

JUST WHAT THE PRESIDENT ORDERED: “Trump announced that he is taking the drug hydroxychloroquine as protection against the novel coronavirus, despite the lack of evidence that it prevents individuals from contracting the illness and warnings from physicians that it can have deadly side effects,” Anne Gearan, Laurie McGinley, Lenny Bernstein and Ariana Eunjung Cha report.

  • Trump said he began taking the drug about 10 days ago: “That timing would put the start of Trump’s drug regimen at roughly the same time as news broke that two White House staffers had tested positive for the virus, and the White House later released a letter from Trump’s in-house doctor that linked his drug regimen to one of those cases.”
  • The letter: White House physician Sean P. Conley said in the letter: “After numerous discussions he and I had for and against the use of hydroxychloroquine we concluded the potential benefit from treatment outweighed the relative risks.”
  • He added Trump continues to test negative for the virus.

The president continues to follow his impulses rather than advice of experts during the pandemic: “Clinical trials, academic research and scientific analysis indicate that the danger of the drug is a significantly increased risk of death for certain patients, particularly those with heart problems,” our colleagues write. 

  • Trump said his “evidence” to take the drug was hearing positive things: “I think it’s good. I’ve heard a lot of good stories. And if it’s not good, I’ll tell you right. I’m not going to get hurt by it,” he told reporters.
  • The FDA previously issued a safety alert about the drug: It “warned that it had received reports that hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine could have serious side effects and that the drug should be taken under the close supervision of a doctor in a hospital setting or a clinical trial.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Trump shouldn't be taking the drug: “I would rather he not be taking something that has not been approved by the scientists, especially in his age group and in his, shall we say, weight group, what is morbidly obese, they say,” Pelosi told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. 

  • Trump slammed Fox News’s Neil Cavuto for questioning his decision to take the drug: “We miss the great Roger Ailes. You have more anti-Trump people, by far, than ever before. Looking for a new outlet!” the presiden tweeted.

TRUMP LEVELS WHO IN LATE NIGHT TWEET: The president said “that the United States might permanently withhold all of its funding from the World Health Organization if ‘major substantive improvements’ weren’t made in the next 30 days,” Anne Gearan reports.

For now, nothing has changed: “In April, Trump had placed a 60-day freeze on the approximately $400 million annual U.S. funding for the health body as part of a larger administration effort to highlight what Trump calls the failings of China, while shifting blame from his own early handling of the crisis,” our colleague writes.

  • More details: “Trump did not specify the changes he wants, but in a letter to WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Trump said discussions between the United States and the WHO are underway. Still, he said he could not wait for the outcome to formally cite ‘repeated missteps by you and your organization in responding to the pandemic,’ which he said had been ‘extremely costly for the world.’"

The People

BARR DOESN'T EXPECT OBAMA OR BIDEN WILL BE INVESTIGATED: “Attorney General William P. Barr said that he did not expect the prosecutor he handpicked to review the 2016 FBI investigation into [Trump’s] campaign would investigate former president Barack Obama or former vice president Joe Biden …,” Matt Zapotosky reports.

  • Ahem: The attorney general slammed efforts to use to the legal system for political gain: “The legal tactic has been to gin up allegations of criminality by one’s political opponents based on the flimsiest of legal theories,” Barr told reporters when asked about Trump's suggestion that Obama and other top officials in his administration committed crimes. “This is not a good development.”

Trump expressed surprise: “But I think Obama — and Biden knew about it, they were participants but  —  so I'm a little surprised by that statement,” the president told reporters. He has claimed without evidence that his predecessors committed crimes. “But if it was me, I guarantee they'd be going after me.” 

OFFICIALS BLAST APPLE IN PENSACOLA CASE: “The Justice Department and the FBI said that data from the cellphones of a Saudi air force student who opened fire last year at a U.S. military base in Pensacola, Fla., was traced back to the terrorist group al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, leading to a counterterrorism operation against one of the gunman’s associates in Yemen,” Devlin Barrett reports.

  • At issue is the tech company's refusal to unlock devices: “Apple’s decision has dangerous consequences for public safety and the national security,” said Barr, adding the company’s refusal to change its encryption software meant FBI agents spent four months hacking into the gunman’s phones,” our colleague writes. “Officials declined to say how the FBI was able to access the phones, but a person familiar with the investigation said agents used a passcode-guessing machine — a process that still took months.”
  • Apple said DOJ isn't telling the truth about its role: “We provided every piece of information available to us, including iCloud backups, account information and transactional data for multiple accounts, and we lent continuous and ongoing technical and investigative support to FBI offices in Jacksonville, Pensacola and New York over the months since,” it said in a statement.

Outside the Beltway

STOCKS SOAR AFTER POSITIVE VACCINE NEWS: “A ‘triple whammy’of good news” buoyed Wall Street, leading the Dow Jones to close up more than 900 points, Taylor Telford reports.

The biggest news came from an early coronavirus vaccine trial: “Moderna, the Massachusetts biotechnology company behind a leading effort to create a vaccine, announced promising early results from its first human safety tests,” Carolyn Y. Johnson reports. “The data have not been published in a scientific journal and are only a preliminary step toward showing the experimental vaccine is safe and effective.”

  • Key development: “Eight participants who received low and medium doses of Moderna’s vaccine had blood levels of virus-fighting antibodies that were similar or greater than those in recovered covid-19 patients. That suggests, but doesn’t prove, that it triggers some level of immunity.”

In the Media

WHAT ELSE YOU NEED TO KNOW:

Biden tries to dispel skepticism over immigration record: “Biden recently told a popular Spanish-language radio broadcaster that he would introduce a comprehensive immigration proposal on his first day as president. He spoke alongside Latino civil rights activists about the spread of the coronavirus in meatpacking plants staffed primarily by immigrants. His wife Jill, who is learning Spanish while stuck at home by the pandemic, has begun meeting weekly with small groups of Latino members of Congress, taking notes on a range of issues to share with her husband,” Jenna Johnson reports this morning.

  • The former VP in private distanced himself from the Obama administration's immigration policy: “He basically, respectfully, said that was the Obama Administration’s decision, as a whole. He didn’t run point for that,” Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), who helped arrange the meeting with some members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus last year and personally endorsed Biden in December, told our colleague. “And Joe Biden, on top of that, mentioned that under his presidency, we wouldn’t see the need nor would we see those numbers of deportations. That’s just not what his path is going to be.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) named Sen. Marco Rubio as the acting head of the Intel Committee: “Rubio (R-Fla.) will serve as the acting chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, replacing Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who stepped aside last week after FBI agents seized his cellphone, seeking evidence related to stock sales he made before the pandemic crashed global markets,” Donna Cassata reports.

  • His first job: The panel will vote today “on Trump’s nominee to be director of national intelligence, Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Tex.). The vote is widely expected to be along party lines" and Ratcliffe approved by the committee.