House Democrats introduce inspector general protection bill after Trump fires several watchdogs

Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., speaks during a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on D.C. statehood on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020.

Caroline Brehman | CQ-Roll Call | Getty Images

House Democrats on Friday announced a new bill to protect inspectors general from political retribution in response to President Donald Trump‘s “relentless attacks” against government watchdogs.

The bill from Democrats on the House Oversight Committee came a week after Trump fired State Department Inspector General Steve Linick on a recommendation from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Linick was reportedly conducting at least two investigations involving Pompeo when he was removed last Friday night.

“Unfortunately, this bill has become necessary because the Trump administration has launched a campaign against inspectors general for doing their jobs, for investigating waste, fraud, and abuse, for reporting the truth, and for holding this administration accountable,” Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said in a press release.

Trump has fired multiple inspectors general over the past several months. 

In April, the president ordered the removal of Michael Atkinson, the inspector general of the intelligence community who had flagged the Ukraine whistleblower complaint that became a major catalyst for Trump’s eventual impeachment in the House. Trump was acquitted in the Senate.

Days later, Trump removed acting Pentagon Inspector General Glenn Fine, who was overseeing the $2 trillion coronavirus relief package.

Last Friday night, Trump removed Linick. The president told House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in a letter that he had lost confidence in the watchdog, without further explanation. Pelosi later said the firing could be “unlawful” if it was an act of retaliation.

Pompeo confirmed this week that he urged Trump to fire Linick, while maintaining that his recommendation was in no way intended as political retribution. Trump said he didn’t know anything about Linick except that he was a holdover from former President Barack Obama’s administration, but nevertheless followed through on Pompeo’s recommendation.

Trump and Pompeo maintain the president had the right to fire Linick.

The legislation, dubbed the “Inspector General Independence Act,” would lay out nine specific reasons for a president to remove an inspector general, including “neglect of duty,” “malfeasance” and committing a “knowing violation of law or regulation.”

Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the Oversight Committee, did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on the bill. The White House did not immediately provide comment.

The bill was introduced by Maloney, as well as House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., chairman of the Subcommittee on Government Operations, and Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security.

The legislation is aimed squarely at Trump.

“President Trump’s relentless attacks against these honest and dedicated government watchdogs are contrary to our fundamental democratic values,” Lynch said in the release.

“The Trump administration has repeatedly demonstrated complete disregard for independent oversight,” Connolly said. “This legislation will protect Inspectors General from undue political interference and retribution for simply carrying out their responsibilities. The independence of IGs is essential to accountability that is essential to our democracy. Silence and inaction by Congress will only embolden this reckless behavior.”

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