WASHINGTON — Two top congressional Democrats opened an investigation on Saturday into President Trump’s removal of Steve A. Linick, who led the office of the inspector general at the State Department, citing a pattern of “politically-motivated firing of inspectors general.”
Mr. Trump told Speaker Nancy Pelosi late Friday night that he was ousting Mr. Linick, who was named by President Barack Obama to the State Department post, and replacing him with an ambassador with close ties to Vice President Mike Pence in the latest purge of inspectors general whom Mr. Trump has deemed insufficiently loyal to his administration.
In letters to the White House, State Department, and Mr. Linick, Representative Eliot L. Engel of New York, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, requested that the administration turn over records and information related to the firing of Mr. Linick as well as “records of all I.G. investigations involving the Office of the Secretary that were open, pending, or incomplete at the time of Mr. Linick’s firing.”
Mr. Engel and Mr. Menendez said in their letters that they believe Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recommended Mr. Linick’s ouster because he had opened an investigation into Mr. Pompeo’s conduct. The lawmakers did not provide any more details, but a Democratic aide said that Mr. Linick had been looking into whether Mr. Pompeo had misused a political appointee at the State Department to perform personal tasks for himself and his wife.
“Such an action, transparently designed to protect Secretary Pompeo from personal accountability, would undermine the foundation of our democratic institutions and may be an illegal act of retaliation,” the lawmakers wrote.
Under law, the administration must notify Congress 30 days before formally terminating an inspector general. Mr. Linick is expected to leave his post then.
Mr. Trump’s decision to remove Mr. Linick is the latest in a series of ousters aimed at inspectors general who the president and his allies believe are opposed to his agenda.
Mr. Linick was spotlighted during the impeachment inquiry when he requested an urgent meeting with congressional staff members to give them copies of documents related to the State Department and Ukraine, signaling they could be relevant to the House investigation into whether President Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son Hunter Biden. The documents — a record of contacts between Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, and Ukrainian prosecutors, as well as accounts of Ukrainian law enforcement proceedings — turned out to be largely inconsequential.