WASHINGTON (CN) — Calling out President Donald Trump for “an assault on the integrity and independence” of government watchdogs, House Democrats are asking the State Department to hand over records on the recent firing of its inspector general.
Backlash quickly followed when Trump over the weekend abruptly dismissed the longtime prosecutor Steve Linick, installed in the watchdog role by President Barack Obama in 2013. Democrats argue the president has undermined the ability of inspectors general to expose corruption and protect taxpayer dollars.
The House is now investigating reports that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo fired Linick — who was responsible for flagging waste, fraud and abuse of the State Department’s $70 billion budget — because he was investigating Pompeo hosting elaborate dinners on the taxpayers’ dime and using agency staff to carry out personal tasks.
House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., has also revealed Linick was overseeing a probe into the administration's arms deal with Saudi Arabia.
“His office was investigating — at my request — Trump’s phony emergency declaration so he could send Saudi Arabia weapons,” Engel said in a Monday tweet. “We don’t have the full picture yet, but it’s troubling that Sec Pompeo wanted Linick pushed out.”
Pompeo said earlier this week that he made clear to Trump that the now-ousted inspector general “wasn’t performing a function in a way that we had tried to get him to.”
In a letter to the secretary on Thursday, Engel and three other House committee chairs urged Pompeo to advise Trump to halt Linick’s termination and asked for records on the firing.
If the now-acting inspector general remains in the post, the House wants Ambassador Stephen Akard to recuse himself from all matters involving Pompeo’s office and the office where Akard currently serves as head of foreign missions, if he does not step down from the politically appointed role he has held since September.
In the dual-post, Akard as inspector general would essentially be overseeing himself along with the rest of the agency’s operations.
The House raised alarm over this conflict of interest, echoing rising concern that Trump has launched an offensive against government whistleblowers.
“Ambassador Akard would have an inherent conflict of interest that would prohibit him from having the independence necessary to conduct fair and rigorous oversight of the Department and of your actions,” the committee chairs wrote.
“This environment,” they continued, “could severely chill whistleblower disclosures to the Office of Inspector General because whistleblowers might fear that their identity could become known to an official still reporting to you.”
Before his years at the State Department, Akard served in Vice President Mike Pence’s administration when he was governor of Indiana. The acting inspector general’s lack of experience in government oversight has raised questions over his qualifications to maintain accountability within the State Department.
“Though he has experience as a Foreign Service Officer earlier in his career, Ambassador Akard appears to have no investigatory or law enforcement experience, which leaves him unprepared to oversee the Office of Inspector General’s hundreds of audits and investigations each year,” the House chairs wrote.
Democrats have requested that Pompeo produce documents and communication related to replacement of Linick and the evaluation of Akard’s qualifications by June 4. They also seek records on the so-called Madison dinners the secretary is said to have hosted with his wife, including financial paperwork and any ethics guidance agency officials sought in relation to the invite-only Republican events.
The State Department did not respond to a request for comment on the House letter sent Thursday.
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