Oversight should have no political bias. That was the message sent yesterday by Republican Senator Chuck Grassley. He announced that he would delay the confirmation process of two Trump nominees until he receives a sufficient explanation for President Trump’s recent termination of two inspectors general – Michael Atkinson, IG of the Intelligence Community, and Steve Linick, IG of the State Department.
Prior to his dismissal, Atkinson alerted Congress about the whistleblower complaint that culminated in Trump’s impeachment. Linick revealed Wednesday that, shortly before his removal, he alerted top officials about his investigation into Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s use of government resources.
Responding by letter to Grassley’s request for an explanation, White House counsel Pat Cipollone defended the president’s authority do dismiss the pair of IGs but did not disclose his reasons for doing so. Grassley was left unsatisfied: “I don’t dispute the president’s authority under the Constitution, but without sufficient explanation, it’s fair to question the president’s rationale for removing an inspector general … The White House Counsel’s letter does not address this glaring conflict of interest. Congress established inspectors general to serve the American people—to be independent and objective watchdogs, not agency lapdogs.” Grassley also rebuked Cipollone’s notion that Trump’s actions mirrored those of President Obama when he removed IG Gerald Walpin: “What that letter fails to mention is that President Obama, at the demand of myself and other members of this chamber, eventually did send several letters explaining in much greater detail the reasons for the removal of Mr. Walpin.”
Section 3(b) of the Inspector General Act of 1978 gives the president authority to remove inspectors general, but only in conjunction with an explanation to Congress.
Determined to receive an explanation, Grassley yesterday expressed his intent to Congress to “object to any unanimous consent request relating to the nomination” of two Trump nominees until he receives sufficient explanation for the terminations. He is refusing to consider the nomination of Christopher C. Miller to Director of the National Counterterrorism Center until he receives an explanation for Atkinson’s termination. Grassley will also not consider the nomination of Marshall Billingslea to Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security at the State Department until he receives an explanation for Linick’s termination.