US President Donald Trump’s firing of the State Department’s top internal watchdog “could be unlawful” if it was intended to retaliate against one of his investigations, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Sunday.
Trump late on Friday removed Inspector General Steve Linick, the fourth inspector general he has fired since early April, following his February acquittal by the Republican-controlled Senate in his impeachment trial.
“The president has the right to fire any federal employee, but the fact is if it looks like it’s in retaliation for something the IG, the inspector general, was investigating, that could be unlawful,” Pelosi said on CNN’s State of the Union programme.
The top Democrats on the House and Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Saturday began a probe into the firing, saying it was their understanding that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo personally recommended Linick’s sacking because the inspector general “had opened an investigation into wrongdoing by Secretary Pompeo himself”.
A State Department spokesperson confirmed Linick had been fired but did not comment on Pompeo’s role in the dismissal.
NBC News, citing two congressional officials, reported on Sunday that Linick was looking into whether Pompeo made a staffer do personal errands such as walking his dog, picking up his dry cleaning and making dinner reservations.
White House adviser Peter Navarro, meanwhile, downplayed the firing, saying what Trump terms the “deep state” has caused problems and those who are not loyal must go.
“We’ve had tremendous problems with, some people call it the ‘Deep State.’ And I think that’s apt. So I don’t mourn the loss,” Navarro, the director of the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, said in an interview on ABC’s This Week.
“There’s a bureaucracy out there. And there’s a lot of people in that bureaucracy who think they got elected president and not Donald J Trump.”
Navarro did not offer any evidence to back up his claim.
Trump and his allies have long pushed conspiracy theories that target what they denounce as the “deep state”, career civil servants meant to be nonpolitical who, they say, are working to undermine Trump.
In April, Trump removed a top coronavirus watchdog, Glenn Fine, who was to oversee the government’s COVID-19 financial relief response. He also notified Congress that he was firing the inspector general of the US intelligence community, Michael Atkinson, who was involved in the triggering the impeachment investigation.
Earlier in May, Trump removed Christi Grimm, who led the US Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (OIG) after accusing her of having produced a “fake dossier” on American hospitals suffering shortages on the front lines of the novel coronavirus outbreak.
“Trump is methodically eliminating anyone who would bring wrongdoing to light,” Senator Jeff Merkley, a Democrat on the Foreign Relations panel, tweeted last week.