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Trump’s slow-motion Friday night massacre of inspectors general

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said May 15 State Department Inspector General Steve Linick's removal was part of a "dangerous pattern of retaliation.” (Video: Reuters)
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The Friday news dump — also known as the Friday night news dump — is a political trick with plenty of precedent. Wait till the vast majority of the news business clocks out for on the week, and announce something you’d rather they not cover as much. People won’t be reading as much news at that point anyway, and perhaps it’ll be dismissed as old news by Monday morning.

Few are as blatant about using this tactic, though, as the Trump White House.

News broke late Friday night that Trump had removed the inspector general for the State Department, Steve Linick. It’s the third time in six weeks that such a move has been announced on a Friday night, with each inspector general having done something to pretty obviously alienate Trump. The unprecedented spate of removals has reinforced how Trump is rather obviously seeking to undermine independent oversight of his administration — and the timing of each of them only reinforces that.

Over the last month-plus, Trump has also replaced a pair of acting inspectors general with oversight of the coronavirus response, with the latest being the acting Transportation Department inspector general on Friday night. Though those carry less apparent whiffs of political motivation, their roles on the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee make the timing notable.

Let’s run through each of the five removals.

State Department inspector general Steve Linick

The action: Fired

When he was removed (first report): Friday, May 15, at about 10 p.m.

What he did:

What Trump has said: Retweeted this tweet suggesting Linick should have come forward earlier if he had such information about Ukraine:

Replaced with: Stephen J. Akard, a former Foreign Service officer and former aide to Vice President Pence dating back to his days in Indiana

Acting Health and Human Services inspector general Christi Grimm

The action: Removed in favor of a permanent replacement

When she was removed (announcement): Shortly after 8 p.m. on Friday, May 1

What she did: Issued an April report finding “severe shortages” of coronavirus testing kits, delays in results and “widespread shortages” of equipment like masks.

What Trump has said: Of her report, Trump said on April 6, “It’s just wrong. Did I hear the word ‘inspector general’? Really? It’s wrong. And they’ll talk to you about it. It’s wrong.” He added on Twitter the next day:

Replaced with: Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Weida

Intelligence community inspector general Michael Atkinson

The action: Fired

When he was removed (first reported): Friday, April 3, around 10 p.m.

What he did: Forwarded the Ukraine whistleblower complaint to Congress after finding it to be “credible” and “urgent.” The complaint, which was overwhelmingly confirmed by impeachment witnesses, led to Trump’s impeachment.

What Trump has said: Trump repeatedly attacked the whistleblower complaint as being without merit and part of an alleged partisan campaign to remove him as president. After removing Atkinson, he specifically cited that action.

“I thought he did a terrible job. Absolutely terrible. He took a whistleblower report, which turned out to be a fake report … and he brought it to Congress with an emergency. Not a big Trump fan, that I can tell you.”

He also questioned Atkinson’s actions:

Atkinson later alleged in an extraordinary letter that he had been targeted for doing his job appropriately.

And finally, in a non-Friday night announcement ...

Acting Defense Department inspector general Glenn Fine

The action: Removed in favor of a permanent replacement

When he was removed: Tuesday, April 7

What he was set to do: Oversee the Trump administration’s handling of the new $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package, which was signed into law a week and a half earlier.

What Trump has said: “We have a lot of IGs in from the Obama era,” he said the day of the announcement. “And as you know, it’s a presidential decision. And I left them, largely. I mean, changed some, but I left them. . . . But when we have, you know, reports of bias and when we have different things coming in. I don’t know Fine. I don’t think I ever met Fine.”

Replaced with: Environmental Protection Agency Inspector General Sean W. O’Donnell, who would serve in an acting capacity at Defense until the announcement of a permanent replacement.

President Trump on April 7 removed the chairman of the federal panel Congress created to oversee the management of the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package. (Video: Reuters)

Acting Transportation Department inspector general Mitch Behm

The action: Replaced by a new acting inspector general

When he was removed: The night of Friday, May 15

What he was set to do: Behm has been tapped to serve as a member of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee. As of Monday morning, he still appeared as a member of the committee -- albeit with his old title of acting inspector general listed.

Replaced with: Howard “Skip” Elliott, the administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, who like O’Donnell will keep that job while serving as the new acting IG. The White House also said it was nominated Eric J. Soskin, a Justice Department attorney, to the permanent position.