The White House said President Donald Trump abided by the law when he fired several inspectors general in the past two months, but did not specify the reason for the layoffs.
The letter issued Tuesday in response to concerns from an influential Republican senator does not clarify Trump’s motives for dismissing the inspectors general and will hardly dampen the outrage from Democrats and groups promoting good governance, who fear the President is trying to dismantle the network of inspectors created after Watergate to combat corruption, fraud and other problems in government agencies.
Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, who for years has been an advocate for inspectorate and legislative oversight, asked the White House for explanations of the April and May firings of Inspectors General of Intelligence and the State Department.
The letter from White House attorney Pat Cipollone on Tuesday does not provide those responses but instead focuses on demonstrating that Trump is authorized to remove the inspectors, who promptly notified Congress and appointed other officials to replace him. qualified.
The turbulence is not limited to the State Department and intelligence inspectorates. Trump removed Glenn Fine from his duties as acting inspector general at the Pentagon and from a special board that oversees the audit of the coronavirus economic rescue package. Fine resigned on Tuesday.
He also replaced Health Department inspector general Christi Grimm, who said Tuesday that her office would proceed with preparing new reports and audits of the department’s response to the coronavirus despite the president has publicly criticized it.
Taken together, these measures have raised alarms that the government is seeking to weaken oversight and possibly retaliate for investigations or actions it deems unfavorable.
Michael Atkinson, fired last month as inspector general of intelligence services, had pursued an anonymous complaint that led to the impeachment of the president. Democrats say the firing of State Department inspector general Steve Linick was due to investigations being carried out involving Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Grassley said Tuesday that he was dissatisfied with the White House’s explanations.
The senator, an ally of Trump, said he did not question his constitutional authority to fire an inspector general, but added: “In the absence of a sufficient explanation, it is valid to question the president’s fundamental reason for removing an inspector general. If the president has a good reason to remove an inspector general, tell Congress what it is. ”
Grassley, who rejects criticism that he has been kind to Trump, also criticized the White House for allowing two interim inspectors – those of the State and Transportation departments – to carry out other functions in those organisms at the same time.
Stephen Akard, the new acting inspector general in the State Department, is also director of the Office of Overseas Missions, which oversees the treatment of foreign missions and their representatives in the country.
Howard “Skip” Elliott, the new acting inspector general in the Department of Transportation, is also chief of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, a crucial body. He has promised to recuse himself from any investigation that affects the said organism.
Grassley said he has long clarified that “interim inspectors general should not be political officials in order to retain the necessary independence.” He added that he is working together with fellow senators to draft a bill to convert that principle into law.