The chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the United States House of Representatives said on Monday that the State Department inspector general might have been fired because he was investigating President Donald Trump’s declaration of an emergency to clear the way for military sales to Saudi Arabia last year.
Trump announced the planned removal of Inspector General Steve Linick in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi late on Friday night, making him the latest government inspector general that the Republican president has removed over the last several weeks.
Engel and Senator Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Republican-controlled Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced on Saturday that they were launching an investigation of Linick’s firing.
“I have learned that there may be another reason for Mr Linick’s firing. His office was investigating – at my request – Trump’s phony declaration of an emergency so he could send weapons to Saudi Arabia,” Engel said in a statement.
“We don’t have the full picture yet, but it’s troubling that Secretary (Mike) Pompeo wanted Mr Linick pushed out before this work could be completed. The administration should comply with the probe I launched with Senator Menendez and turn over all the records requested from the Department by Friday,” Engel said.
Even fellow Republicans are now demanding answers about Linick’s dismissal.
In a letter sent on Monday, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, the most senior Republican in the Senate, warned the president that inspectors general “should be free from partisan political interference, from either the Executive or Legislative branch.”
Grassley asked Trump to “provide a detailed reasoning” for the removal of Linick no later than June 1.
In his first public comments on the matter, Pompeo told The Washington Post in an interview on Monday that he had recommended to Trump that Linick be removed because he was “undermining” the State Department’s mission, but he would not address specifics except to say it was not in retaliation for any investigation.
“It is not possible that this decision, or my recommendation rather, to the president rather, was based on any effort to retaliate for any investigation that was going on, or is currently going on,” Pompeo said, adding that he did not know if Linick’s office had been looking into possible impropriety on his part.
Trump infuriated many members of US Congress last year, including some of his fellow Republicans as well as Democrats, by declaring an emergency in order to sidestep Congressional review of eight billion dollars in military sales, mostly to Saudi Arabia
The House and Senate both passed resolutions to block the sales, but Trump vetoed them, and there was not enough support in the Republican-led Senate to override his veto.
Congressional aides had also said that Linick was investigating whether Pompeo misused a taxpayer-funded political appointee to perform personal tasks for himself and his wife.
US law allows a president to remove inspector generals, who act as watchdogs to expose waste or improper activities within government agencies.