A top Senate Republican Monday called on President Trump to “provide a detailed reasoning” for the firing late last week of State Department Inspector General Steve Linick, amid claims by Democrats he was pushed out for probing the administration’s handling of controversial Mideast weapons deals.
In a letter to the president on Monday, Sen. Charles E. Grassley demanded Mr. Trump explain Friday’s firing of Mr. Linick to lawmakers by June 1 and stressed that inspectors general must be allowed to operate “free from partisan political interference.”
Mr. Linick’s dismissal is the latest in a string of clashes between the White House and government inspectors general, many of the Obama administration holdovers whom Mr. Trump and his allies sometimes see as part of a “deep state” trying to undermine his administration.
The Iowa Republican noted federal law requiring the White House “provide notice and explanation to Congress 30 days before the removal of an IG” — a stipulation some believe Mr. Trump has not adequately adhered to in the Linick case.
The State Department has refused to comment on the specific causes behind Mr. Linick’s firing, although Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a phone interview with The Washington Post that the move wasn’t made in retaliation for a specific action.
“I went to the President and made clear to him that Inspector General Linick wasn’t performing a function in a way that we had tried to get him to, that was additive for the State Department, very consistent with what the statute says he’s supposed to be doing,” Mr. Pompeo said.
Mr. Trump confirmed Monday that he made the decision at Mr. Pompeo’s request, but added that the dismissal “should have been done a long time ago” because Mr. Linick was a holdover from the Obama era.
“I was happy to do it,” Mr. Trump said at the White House. “He’s an Obama appointment and he had some difficulty.”
He also dismissed weekend press reports that Mr. Pompeo may have been trying to quash a separate IG probe into his use of State Department personnel to run personal errands for him and his wife.
“I’d rather have [Mr. Pompeo} on the phone with some world leader than have him wash dishes,”
Mr. Grassley’s letter, meanwhile, signaled frustration that began with Democrats over the affair may be spreading to some Republicans.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel said Monday he believed that Mr. Linick may have been fired for investigating the Trump administration’s use last year of a rare “emergency declaration” to push through a weapons deal with Saudi Arabia.
Mr. Linick’s “office was investigating — at my request — Trump’s phony declaration of an emergency so he could send weapons to Saudi Arabia,” the New York Democrat said in a statement.
It is “troubling,” Mr. Engel added, that Mr. Pompeo “wanted Mr. Linick pushed out before this work could be completed.”
Democrats claim the Trump administration, which had pushed weapons sales to the Saudis as a way to create more U.S. defense jobs, sought to circumvent a congressional ban on weapons sales to Riyadh over its role in the brutal Yemeni civil war and the resulting humanitarian catastrophe.
Mr. Engel and New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said over the weekend they were opening an investigation into why Mr. Linick was fired.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday slammed Mr. Trump’s Friday night announcement of the firing. “Typical of the White House announcing something unsavory, they would do it on a Friday night,” the California Democrat said Sunday in an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Mr. Trump wrote in a letter to Mrs. Pelosi late Friday night that he no longer had “fullest confidence” in Mr. Linick, who had been in the State Department IG position since 2013.
“The president has the right to fire any federal employee,” Mrs. Pelosi acknowledged Sunday.
“But the fact is,” she said, “if it looks like it’s in retaliation for something the inspector general is doing that could be unlawful.”
Mr. Linick is the latest of several independent federal watchdogs to be pushed out in recent weeks In April, the president removed Michael Atkinson, the inspector general for the intelligence community who had fast-tracked a whistleblower complaint last year that kick-started Mr. Trump’s impeachment ordeal.
He also fired former acting Defense Department Inspector General Glenn Fine. Mr. Fine had also been tapped to lead a committee charged with overseeing trillions in federal coronavirus rescue spending.
• Tom Howell Jr., Lauren Meier and David Sherfinski contributed to this report.