President Donald Trump has fired the head of the State Department’s internal control agency, Steve Linick, who had previously initiated an investigation against Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Meanwhile, Democrats consider the firing as the latest example of Trump’s proclivity for revenge.
Criticism of Trump’s Decision
As CNN reported on Friday evening, Trump informed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about the dismissal before it became public. Pelosi, in turn, subsequently accused Trump of punishing Linick for protecting the Constitution and national security. Linick, who had worked as a prosecutor for a long time, was appointed in 2013 by Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama.
The chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the House of Representatives, Eliot Engel, also criticized that the firing was Trump’s way of protecting Mike Pompeo — one of the president’s most loyal supporters — with Linick’s dismissal. Linick’s office had opened an investigation into Pompeo, as Engel said.
Senior Democrats Investigating Linick’s Dismissal
As has now become known, senior Democrats in Congress are working to get to the bottom of Linick’s dismissal. An investigation has begun, Eliot Engel and Senate Foreign Affairs Committee member Bob Menendez said on Saturday.
Engel and Menendez each wrote letters to the White House, the State Department, and Linick, asking to provide the committees with records and information related to Linick’s release by Friday. They explicitly requested access to records of all of the Inspector General’s inquiries relating to the Secretary of State’s office that was open or unfinished at the time Linick was released. They also request information about the suitability of Stephen Akard, who is now to fill the post and who is a confidante of Vice President Pence.
Reports: Pompeo Wanted Linick Gone
Media reports indicated that Secretary of State Pompeo personally recommended that Linick be removed from his post. Such a measure would “undermine the foundation of our democratic institutions” and could be an “unlawful act of retribution,” Engel continued.
Linick’s dismissal amid such an investigation strongly suggests that the latter is likely, according to Engel, even though neither he nor Menendez stated any specifics. However, reports are now suggesting that Linick had investigated whether Pompeo had an employee take care of personal matters for himself and his wife, while other reports indicate Linick was also investigating a controversial arms deal with Saudi Arabia.
Meanwhile, Pompeo himself has denied that the dismissal was a retaliatory measure for the investigation against him. Pompeo told the Washington Post that he recommended President Trump’s dismissal of Inspector General Steve Linick because he undermined the ministry’s mandate, but also without providing details.
A History of Firing Senior Officials
Previously, Trump fired Inspector-General of Intelligence Michael Atkinson last month. Atkinson played a crucial role in getting the Ukraine affair rolling, which led to the impeachment process. After Trump’s acquittal in the impeachment process, a White House National Security Council expert on Ukraine, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, and US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland were also released from their duties.
While the latest firing adds to the narrative of a vengeful president ready to fight his enemies from the inside, it is also a superfluous debate. While Trump’s turnover of staff, in general, is historic as this stage and the negative connotation notwithstanding, it is yet entirely within a president’s prerogative to fire staffers whom he deems to be insubordinate or inapt.
It has been a common practice with presidents, and it is a natural desire to be surrounded by individuals who are loyal and reliable. Ronald Reagan, for instance, went to war with the executive branch when he became president in 1981, fired pretty much everyone but himself. What makes it peculiar in Trump’s case, however, is the stigma of running a dirty and corrupt government, always inclined to get rid of those, who could uncover the truth.
Nonetheless, if the occupant of the Oval Office changed in January 2021, one can rest assured that individuals of the executive branch will be replaced in their roles. It is not a uniquely Trumpian novelty. It is Washington politics.