Another Blow to Accountability in Government

Trump fires another Inspector General.

“Secretary Pompeo and Secretary Mnuchin Speak to Reporters” by The White House is in the Public Domain, CC0

Via WaPo: Trump ramps up retaliatory purge with firing of State Department inspector general.

President Trump accelerated his retaliatory purge of public servants by firing the State Department’s inspector general, who had played a minor role in the president’s impeachment proceedings and was said to have begun investigating alleged misconduct by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Acting on Pompeo’s recommendation, Trump abruptly terminated Steve A. Linick late Friday night, again challenging established norms of American governance in his push to rid the federal bureaucracy of officials he considers insufficiently loyal to or protective of him and his administration. Trump replaced Linick with Stephen J. Akard, a trusted ally of Vice President Pence and the diplomat who directs the Office of Foreign Missions. He also replaced the acting inspector general at the Department of Transportation on Friday night.

Because, of course, what you want is for the target of a probe to be able to fire the person who is investigating them. Further, the idea of putting loyalists into these positions is simply corrupt. IGs exist to protect the people of the United States from corrupt actions within our government, not to ensure that the political appointees of the president are protected.

Inspectors general serve as internal government watchdogs conducting oversight of federal agencies — and although they technically are political appointees, their independence has long been protected. Trump’s move — his fourth such firing during the coronavirus pandemic — drew swift condemnations from Democrats and at least one Republican on Capitol Hill.

The Republican was Romney:

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) wrote Saturday evening on Twitter: “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.”

Indeed.

As to why this IG may have lost Trump’s “confidence.”

Some of Linick’s recent investigations have been critical of the State Department’s management and caused consternation among Trump’s political appointees there. He has been perceived as a persistent thorn in the side of the administration under Pompeo.

Linick had recently launched an investigation into the use of a Schedule C employee by Pompeo and his wife to conduct personal activities, according to lawmakers and people familiar with the inspector general’s office. A Schedule C employee is a non-career official working directly for a presidential appointee.

Trump has done serious damage to the career civil service and is leaving a huge mess that needs to be cleaned up but will be hard to easily fix. Four more years of a Trump administration and internal checks on political appointees may be wholly hollowed out. Anyone out there who claims to believe in limited government, or just basic rule of law, ought to be quite concerned about this.

Quite frankly, we need Congress to pass better protections against these kinds of actions, but expecting Congress to act in such a fashion is likely mere hopefulness. The Trump administration has clearly demonstrated that we need stronger laws governing control of the civil service, including stronger protections for whistleblowers and those charged with oversight powers. We definitely need improved rules about interim/acting replacements in various parts of government, both civil service positions and political appointments,

Linick’s firing is the latest in a series of moves by Trump since the Senate voted in February to acquit him in his impeachment trial. The president has vowed repeatedly to destroy what he calls the “deep state” by removing government officials he believes conspired against him in the impeachment proceedings or are otherwise disloyal.

“I never knew the swamp was so bad,” Trump said at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Feb. 29, about three weeks after his acquittal. “It’s really bad. . . . A lot of dirty people. A lot of very bad people. A lot of bad people. And I think justice will be had.”

Quite clearly “bad” and “dirty” means not loyal to Trump.

In recent weeks, Trump has ousted three other internal government watchdogs. The president fired the intelligence community’s inspector general, Michael Atkinson, who had handled the explosive whistleblower complaint that led to his impeachment.

Trump also pushed out Glenn Fine, chairman of the federal panel Congress created to oversee his administration’s management of the government’s $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package. And he removed Christi Grimm as principal deputy inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services, after Grimm’s office criticized the administration’s response to the pandemic.

Trump also made a change at the Department of Transportation.

More details at the link.

Note:

There is no modern precedent for so many firings of inspectors general in such a compressed time period. Obama fired one inspector general, citing job performance issues. President Ronald Reagan tried to remove several but reversed himself after aides told him that watchdogs are not political appointees in the traditional sense.

Let that sink in and compare to what is cited above.

All of this sends a signal: if an IG seeks to actually do their job in a way that runs afoul of the administration, they will lose their job. And while otherwise moral individuals might seek to do their jobs to the best of their abilities even under those pressures, that kind of environment will clearly cause people to second guess themselves. With mortgages and college tuition payments on their minds, how many will simply hunker down and not pursue corrupt actions under such conditions?

We want to incentivize appropriate investigations of wrong-doing, not disincentivize them.

This is moral rot within our government, plain and simple. And it is one of the numerous reasons why electing an immoral huckster to the presidency is a really terrible idea.

To many, this is probably a boring story about the boring bureaucracy (I mean, who likes bureaucrats anyway?). But this kind of erosion of the basic functioning of government is hugely important. We need a functioning civil service and we especially need non-political entities keeping track of corrupt practices by those in positions of power. It is basic rule of law stuff.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Sleeping Dog says:

    Historically, incoming presidents have swept possible illegal behavior by the prior administration under the rug. This can’t happen with Tiny. If (when) Biden takes office in January, he needs to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the Trump administration and congress needs to have a 9/11 Commission-Kennedy Assassination Commission investigation.

    And yes, a second Trump administration would be the end of the US as we’ve known it.

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  2. Moosebreath says:

    “Because, of course, what you want is for the target of a probe to be able to fire the person who is investigating them.”

    As if this is the first time Trump has tried to do this (e.g., trying to get Sessions to fire Mueller).

    2
  3. Kylopod says:

    Trump fires another Inspector General.

    Appropriate for an administration that has been hawking Yakov’s golden elixir.

  4. Kylopod says:

    Note to self. Linky never comes out on iPhone.

    https://youtu.be/m1yM2babqZs

  5. Erik says:

    All actions of this administration need to be viewed as if Trump is getting coached by Putin on how to create an oligarchy. He is following Putin’s playbook:
    -generate constant outrage to distract and dilute the ability to respond
    -stoke internal divisions so citizens are fighting each other and can’t band together to fight for democracy
    -actively hurt everyone who isn’t going to be part of the oligarchy so they have to concentrate on survival instead of saving democracy
    -destroy confidence in democracy itself, either by telling his followers that it is corrupt or by actually corrupting it in ways that his opponents will agree is corrupt

    Make no mistake: this is all on the heads of not just the Trump administration but the whole GOP. The Republican Party is no longer conservative, it has transformed into an authoritarian party. Any remaining conservatives in it are either not paying attention, too blinded by partisanship to see clearly, using hope as a course of action, or complicit. The only patriotic pathway for people like Romney who seem to see what is happening is to leave the party. Vote Democratic. If in office at least become an independent and caucus with the Democrats.

    Later, once this mess is cleaned up, create a new Conservative party that will be a check on liberal changes. But recognize that right now being conservative means conserving democracy by opposing the authoritarian power grab of the Republican Party. Everyone needs to recognize that the republicans are not “playing by the rules” because they are playing a different game.

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  6. CSK says:

    @Erik:
    Given that Trump’s most vociferous supporters appear to hate Republicans as much as they hate Democrats, and that such a substantial number of conservatives (Jen Rubin, Tom Nichols, Steve Schmidt, Rick Wilson, Jonah Goldberg, David French, and on and on) are Never Trumpers, I’d say you are right.

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  7. @Moosebreath:

    As if this is the first time Trump has tried to do this

    I made no representation that this was the first time. (Note that the title of the piece suggests an ongoing problem).

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  8. Gustopher says:

    Trump has done serious damage to the career civil service and is leaving a huge mess that needs to be cleaned up but will be hard to easily fix.

    There will have to be a whole lot of recent “non-political” appointees that the next administration will have to fire.

    Which brings me to what you quoted:

    There is no modern precedent for so many firings of inspectors general in such a compressed time period. Obama fired one inspector general, citing job performance issues. President Ronald Reagan tried to remove several but reversed himself after aides told him that watchdogs are not political appointees in the traditional sense.

    We are going to hear the Republicans screaming bloody murder about Joe Biden’s Thursday Morning Massacre (assuming he clears house at 9am the day after being sworn in, and assuming that he is sworn in). There will be no shame, and nothing except decrying “the most lawless administration ever…”

    If they are feeling especially charitable, it will be called “the most lawless administration since Obama’s gangsta administration.”

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  9. An Interested Party says:

    I wonder how this will affect the Kansas Senate election…

  10. reid says:

    @Gustopher: Sadly, I think you’re absolutely right. It’s like trying to reason with a psychotic spouse.

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