A State Department whistleblower who was fired on Friday evening had been looking into whether Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had abused his powers of office by ordering department employees to carry out personal tasks for him — including walking his dog, picking up his dry-cleaning, and making dinner reservations for his wife and himself, among other errands.
House officials received information about Inspector General Steve Linick’s firing following his sudden removal from the State Department late last week. President Donald Trump, in explaining Linick’s termination, said it was necessary to have “the fullest confidence in the appointees serving as Inspectors General,” implying that Linick had lost his trust.
Many lawmakers on Capitol Hill, including members of the Republican Party, were skeptical of Trump’s rationale. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who serves as co-chair of the Whistleblower Protection Caucus in Congress, decried the president’s explanation.
“A general lack of confidence is simply not sufficient” grounds for firing an inspector general, Grassley said.
Beyond being demonstrative of using his office in an inappropriate manner — utilizing taxpayer funds for personal business — Pompeo’s actions in recommending Linick’s firing to Trump may also be illegal for other reasons. According to U.S. statutes on obstruction of justice, any official who attempts to “influence, obstruct, or impede the due and proper administration of the law” is guilty of the crime. That includes firing officials if doing so is an attempt to impede an investigation they were conducting.
It’s possible that the current investigation into Pompeo’s alleged abuse of power won’t be looked at with the same amount of scrutiny, now that Linick is out: The departing inspector general is being replaced by Stephen Akard, an individual considered to be a strong ally of Vice President Mike Pence.
Linick himself was viewed as a nonpartisan official, serving in executive department roles across three different presidential administrations, two of which were Republican. Linick filed the May 2016 report that was highly critical of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over her email use while she served in the Obama administration.
Pompeo’s use of his office for personal reasons has been looked at in the past. Last summer, a separate whistleblower complaint suggested he had engaged in similar behavior, and in October, questions over whether his travels to Kansas, using State Department aircraft, were appropriate were raised, as Pompeo had been considering a run for Senate in that state around that time.
On Sunday, while appearing on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi discussed the legality of the controversial firing.
“The president has the right to fire any federal employee. But the fact is, if it looks like it is in retaliation for something that the IG, the inspector general, is doing, that could be unlawful,” Pelosi said.