The latest evidence of Trump’s disdain for accountability was his ouster Friday night of State Department Inspector General Steve Linick. He was the fifth IG Trump has sacked in the past six weeks, including inspectors general for the intelligence community and the departments of Health and Human Services, Transportation and Defense. The last two officials also helped oversee the government’s $3.4 trillion pandemic relief spending.
“These firings appear to be retaliatory for the work the IGs were conducting. This strikes at the very core of the guarantees of independence built into the Inspector General Act,” argues Roslyn Mazer, former IG for the intelligence community and the Federal Trade Commission and a leading authority on the subject. She warns: “If Congress capitulates to these firings and fails to pass legislation with greater protections, it will signal the end to IG independence.”
Trump briefly explained Linick’s removal in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), saying he lacked “fullest confidence” in him. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told The Post that Linick’s work wasn’t “additive” for the department; Brian Bulatao, one of Pompeo’s top aides complained about “a pattern of unauthorized disclosures” and Linick’s refusal to embrace Pompeo’s “ethos statement.”
Pompeo apparently didn’t think Linick was a supportive team player. To which the public response should be: So what? That’s not his job. An IG is supposed to examine the department and its leadership, not support them.
“There’s a natural tension in the relationship, but it’s a necessary one for the government to be accountable to Congress and the public,” argues Nicholas Burns, a former undersecretary of state under President George W. Bush.
Many of the IGs who oversee 73 federal agencies probably aren’t very popular with their colleagues, either. Government workers complain about nitpicking and prolonged reviews. A summons to the IG’s office can be an invitation to months of scrutiny and potential recrimination. But most public servants accept that this intrusive scrutiny comes with the job of spending the public’s money. Trump seems different in that regard. He acts more like an owner than a temporary steward.
Linick has usefully annoyed State Department officials through two administrations. In December 2013, the year he was appointed, he issued a “management alert” about cybersecurity breaches that roiled State Department officials but proved to be prescient.
In June 2015, to the everlasting regret of former secretary Hillary Clinton, he began investigating “hundreds of potentially classified emails” that had been on Clinton’s private email server. Linick went on to review email security violations by former officials stretching back more than a decade, an investigation one Republican target remembers as a “nightmare.”
What seems to have especially riled Pompeo is leaks about IG investigations. Brian Hook, the special envoy for Iran, was under consideration last year as a possible successor to John Bolton as national security adviser when a draft IG report critical of Hook was published. Hook’s name vanished from consideration, and Pompeo was furious.
When Pompeo last summer overturned a State Department recommendation against an $8 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia, and Trump approved the deal over congressional opposition, a whistleblower complained. Linick launched an investigation, but according to CNN, Pompeo refused to cooperate. That investigation leaked, too. Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, complained this week that Linick was “pushed out before this work could be completed” on the Saudi probe.
An IG’s job is to be meddlesome. A May 2020 online summary by Linick’s office cites 565 open matters awaiting a recommendation. This year, his office has, among other things: criticized a construction delay in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, that increased the cost of a new embassy building; reprimanded a State Department officer for approving a $28,569 payment to a company that employed the officer’s spouse; and demanded that a contractor pay $629 for unauthorized use of an iPhone and iPad.
The United States isn’t a family business. It’s a multi-trillion-dollar global operation. It needs independent auditors. Mr. President, stop acting like you own the place.