In Depth

Why everyone’s talking about Donald Trump’s ‘deep state’ sacking

US President fires watchdog investigating key ally

US Democrats have launched an official investigation into Donald Trump’s sacking of the State Department’s chief watchdog.

Inspector general Steve Linick had been investigating Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a key ally of the president, for alleged abuse of office.

Who is Steve Linick?

Linick was appointed inspector general in 2013 by then-president Barack Obama, to oversee spending and detect mismanagement at the State Department, reports the BBC.

Last November, Linick published a report that accused the Trump administration of making choices on diplomats’ postings based on politics rather than merit, as Politico reported at the time.

Prior to being fired, the watchdog had been investigating allegations that Pompeo had used government-funded staffers to run errands for him and his wife.

Announcing the sacking on Friday, Trump claimed he “no longer” had the “fullest confidence” in Linick.

Pompeo is said to have recommended Linick’s dismissal, with the president confirming the decision, reports the Financial Times.

The move is “the latest in a series of dismissals of independent government watchdogs” by Trump, says CNN. First was the intelligence community inspector general, Michael Atkinson, who got the axe in early April after allowing the whistle-blower complaint to Congress that kicked off Trump’s impeachment.

Days later, Glenn Fine was fired as inspector general of defence, after being identified by the president as another “holdover” from Obama’s administration, CNN reports. 

And in early May came the sacking of Christi Grimm, the health watchdog who revealed “severe shortages” of coronavirus testing kits in US hospitals, says The Washington Post.

And the reaction to Linick’s sacking?

In a television interview on Sunday, White House adviser Peter Navarro linked Linick to the “deep state” and said that those who were not loyal to the Trump administration had to go, reports The Independent.

But top Democrats on the House and Senate foreign relations committees immediately questioned the sacking and announced they would be launching an investigation.

“We unalterably oppose the politically-motivated firing of inspectors general and the president’s gutting of these critical positions,” Congressman Eliot Engel and Senator Bob Menendez said in a statement.

Linick had “opened an investigation into wrongdoing by Secretary Pompeo himself”, and his firing was “transparently designed to protect Secretary Pompeo from personal accountability”, they added.

Engel and Menendez have asked the White House and State Department to hand over all records related to Linick’s dismissal by this Friday, the BBC reports.

Some Republicans have joined Democrats in condemning the series of seemingly politically motivated dismissals.

Utah Senator Mitt Romney tweeted that Trump’s firings of multiple inspectors-general were “unprecedented” and “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,” he added.

Chuck Grassley, the Republican chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said that inspectors-general were “crucial in correcting government failures and promoting the accountability that the American people deserve”.

“As I’ve said before, Congress requires written reasons justifying an IG’s removal,” he added. “A general lack of confidence simply is not sufficient detail to satisfy Congress.”

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What will happen next?

Linick’s firing will take effect in 30 days unless members of Congress intervene to pressure or convince Trump to reverse course - which is unlikely, given that the US leader has been on the inspector-general sacking warpath for months now.

Confirming Linick’s dismissal, a State Department spokesperson said that Stephen Akard, an ally of Vice President Mike Pence, will take over in the role. 

Akard’s appointment will need to be ratified by Congress.

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