Trump Faces Bipartisan Criticism Over Decision to Fire 4th Inspector General Friday Night

A bipartisan group of senators criticized President Donald Trump this weekend after he fired a fourth Inspector General on a Friday night in less than two months, roiling his critics who say he's systematically removing government watchdogs.

Trump on Friday fired State Department Inspector General Steve Linick, a move that Democrats said was in retaliation for a probe into Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The president has now overseen the unprecedented removal of four inspector generals in under two months: Michael Atkinson was removed as the intelligence community's IG on a Friday in the first week of April; acting Pentagon IG Glenn Fine was fired that same weekend; and Health and Human Services IG Christi Grimm was removed in early May.

The president's latest move regarding Linick prompted Republican Utah Senator Mitt Romney to tweet Saturday: "The firings of multiple Inspectors General is unprecedented; doing so without good cause chills the independence essential to their purpose. It is a threat to accountable democracy and a fissure in the constitutional balance of power."

GOP Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, a longtime advocate of inspectors general and federal government whistleblowers, issued a statement saying Trump's latest IG dismissal was not "sufficient" evidence for removal.

"As I've said before, Congress requires written reasons justifying an IG's removal. A general lack of confidence simply is not sufficient detail to satisfy Congress," Grassley said in a statement.

Linick's removal led Democratic Senator Bob Menendez to dub the event as "another Friday night massacre" during a CNN interview Saturday--a reference to the "Saturday Night Massacre," when President Richard Nixon fired Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox and accepted the resignations of two other officials in 1973 amid the Watergate scandal.

On that same day, Menendez announced that he and Democratic Congressman Eliot L. Engel have started a probe into Linick's ouster, and sent a letter to the White House.

"President Trump's unprecedented removal of Inspector General Linick is only his latest sacking of an inspector general, our government's key independent watchdogs, from a federal agency. We unalterably oppose the politically-motivated firing of inspectors general and the President's gutting of these critical positions," Engel and Menendez wrote in a statement. "Reports indicate that Secretary Pompeo personally made the recommendation to fire Mr. Linick, and it is our understanding that he did so because the Inspector General had opened an investigation into wrongdoing by Secretary Pompeo himself. Such an action, transparently designed to protect Secretary Pompeo from personal accountability, would undermine the foundation of our democratic institutions and may be an illegal act of retaliation. This concern is amplified by the fact that it came only hours after the House of Representatives passed the Heroes Act, which contains additional legal protections for inspectors general."

Newsweek reached out to Menendez's office and the White House Sunday evening.

Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins concurred with the criticism of the two Democratic lawmakers in a tweet Saturday: "I have long been a strong advocate for the Inspectors General. They are vital partners in Congress's effort to identify inefficient or ineffective government programs and to root out fraud and other wrongdoing."

Inspectors general have long existed in the U.S. military, but Congress officially created the IG position in 1978 following Watergate and Nixon's resignation.

Several bipartisan lawmakers accused Trump of retaliating against anyone who criticizes the actions of his administration, particularly whistleblowers involved in the impeachment hearings including Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman and former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.

mitt romney chuck grassley ig
A bipartisan group of senators criticized President Donald Trump this weekend after he fired a fourth Inspector General on a Friday night in less than two months, roiling his critics who say he's systematically removing government watchdogs. EMMANUEL DUNAND / Staff/Getty Images