Donald Trump has fired the inspector-general of the US Department of State, in a late-night move that Democrats said was part of “dangerous pattern of retaliation” on the part of the US president.
Mr Trump notified Congress late on Friday that he was exercising the power of the presidency to remove Steve Linick from the oversight role, effective in 30 days, saying he no longer had “the fullest confidence” in the federal watchdog.
Mr Linick was a prosecutor and justice department official before being nominated by Barack Obama in 2013 to be inspector-general of the state department. His nomination was confirmed by the US Senate.
The inspector-general had been critical of the Trump administration, saying in an official report last November that some of the president’s appointees had retaliated against a career diplomat who was not seen as sufficiently loyal to Mr Trump.
Shortly after the firing, a senior Democratic lawmaker claimed that Mr Linick had also opened an investigation into Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, who came under sharp scrutiny during the president’s impeachment trial.
Eliot Engel, the Democratic congressman from New York who chairs the House foreign affairs committee, said Mr Linick’s firing was “the outrageous act of a president trying to protect one of his most loyal supporters, the secretary of state, from accountability”.
“I have learned that the Office of the Inspector General had opened an investigation into Secretary Pompeo,” Mr Engel added. “Mr Linick’s firing amid such a probe strongly suggests that this is an unlawful act of retaliation.”
Last month, Mr Trump fired Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community’s inspector-general, who had a pivotal role in his impeachment proceedings last year. Mr Atkinson told lawmakers about a whistleblower complaint regarding the president’s dealings with Ukraine, which sparked the impeachment probe.
The president has also removed other officials involved in his impeachment, including Alexander Vindman, a former National Security Council official, and Gordon Sondland, the former US ambassador to the EU.
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House, said Mr Trump’s sacking of Mr Linick had “accelerated his dangerous pattern of retaliation against the patriotic public servants charged with conducting oversight on behalf of the American people.”
“Inspector-general Linick was punished for honourably performing his duty to protect the Constitution and our national security, as required by the law and by his oath,” she added.
Stephen Akard, an ally of US-vice president Mike Pence and longtime state department official, will replace Mr Linick in an acting capacity, though his appointment will need to be confirmed by the Senate.