Trump's Firing of Steve Linick an 'Unlawful Act of Retaliation' for Pompeo Inquiry, Democrats Say

President Donald Trump fired the State Department Inspector General Steve Linick on Friday in a move Democrats condemned as an "unlawful act of retaliation" for starting an investigation into Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. On Saturday, Democratic lawmakers announced they are launching an investigation into Linick's ouster.

Trump confirmed the decision to remove Linick, the latest government watchdog to be fired by the administration in recent months, in a letter sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

"As is the case with regard to other positions where I, as President, have the power of appointment, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, it is vital that I have the fullest confidence in the appointees serving as Inspector General," Trump wrote. "That is no longer the case with regard to this Inspector General."

As first reported by Politico, Linick will be replaced by Stephen Akard, the current Director of the Office of Foreign Missions.

Akard is also a close ally of Mike Pence and worked as the chief of staff for the Indiana Economic Development Corporation when the Vice President was the state's governor.

"I can confirm that Mr. Linick was fired," a State Department spokesperson told to Newsweek. "The State Department is happy to announce that Ambassador Stephen J. Akard will now lead the Office of the Inspector General at the State Department... and we look forward to him leading the Office of the Inspector General."

The State Department did not give a reason for Linick's dismissal.

On Saturday afternoon, Democratic Senator Bob Menendez announced that he and Congressman Eliot L. Engel have launched an investigation into the firing.

"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."

In an earlier statement, Engel said Linick's removal arrived after he opened an investigation into Pompeo for alleged abuse of power.

"This firing is the outrageous act of a President trying to protect one of his most loyal supporters, the Secretary of State, from accountability," Engel said. "I have learned that the Office of the Inspector General had opened an investigation into Secretary Pompeo. Mr. Linick's firing amid such a probe strongly suggests that this is an unlawful act of retaliation.

"This President believes he is above the law. As he systematically removes the official independent watchdogs from the Executive Branch, the work of the Committee on Foreign Affairs becomes that much more critical. In the days ahead, I will be looking into this matter in greater detail, and I will press the State Department for answers."

Linick—who played a small role in Trump's impeachment trial after providing House members documents that the president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, gave to the State Department—is the latest inspector general to be fired late by Trump.

In April 3, Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson was also dismissed what critics argued was retaliation for his handling of the whistleblower report regarding Trump's phone call to Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskiy, which triggered the impeachment proceedings against him.

Four days later, Trump fired Glenn Fine, acting Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Defense, who was tasked with overseeing the $2.2 trillion in spending for coronavirus relief.

On May 1, Trump also fired Christi Grimm from her role in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (OIG), after authoring a report detailing a lack of testing and personal protective equipment (PPE) amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Pelosi said that the firing shows that Trump has "accelerated his dangerous pattern of retaliation" against public servants investigating his administration.

"Inspector General Linick was punished for honorably performing his duty to protect the Constitution and our national security, as required by the law and by his oath," she added.

"The President must cease his pattern of reprisal and retaliation against the public servants who are working to keep Americans safe, particularly during this time of global emergency."

Menendez had also earlier called Linick's ouster "shameful." "Another late Friday night attack on independence, accountability, and career officials," he tweeted. "At this point, the president's paralyzing fear of any oversight is undeniable."

The State Department has been contacted for further comment.

Updated 3:04 PM ET, to indicate that Menendez and Engel are launching an investigation into the firing.

Steve Linick
U.S. State Department Inspector General Steve Linick departs the U.S. Capitol October 02, 2019 in Washington, DC. Linick reportedly met with congressional officials to brief them on information related to the impeachment inquiry centered around U.S. President Donald Trump. Win McNamee/Getty