Over the past six weeks, there has been a bloodletting in the executive branch as President Trump has fired no less than four inspectors general. The four IGs all worked for different agencies within the executive branch.
The drawn-out massacre of government watchdogs began on April 3 with the firing of Michael Atkinson, the IG for the intelligence community. Atkinson was responsible for vetting the whistleblower claim that ignited the Ukraine scandal last year.
Atkinson, who was appointed by Trump in 2018, was replaced by Thomas Monheim, who is currently the Acting IG. Monheim is a retired air force colonel and a career intelligence professionol.
A few days later, the president fired Glenn Fine, the acting IG for the Department of Defense. Fine reverted to his position as Principal Deputy Inspector General per CNN, but his removal as the acting IG means that he is no longer head of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, the body created by Congress to oversee the Trump Administration’s disbursement of relief funds.
Fine was replaced in his acting role by Sean O’Donnell, who had been tapped by Trump to be the Environmental Protection Agency IG. O’Donnell now wears the IG hat at both agencies. Michael Horowitz, the IG for the Department of Justice, stepped into the role of chair for the pandemic oversight committee.
The next head on the chopping block was Christi Grimm, the Health and Human Services IG, on May 2. Grimm was personally denounced by the president after she released a scathing report on the federal government’s early response to the pandemic. President Trump nominated Jason Weida, an assistant US attorney in Boston as Grimm’s replacement.
The most recent addition to the president’s trophy case of IG heads was State Department IG Steve Linick, whose dismissal was announced on May 15. There are reports that Linick’s firing was recommended by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo after Linick had opened an investigation into Pompeo’s use of State Department staff to run personal errands for himself and his wife.
To a president who places a premium on loyalty, there were other strikes against Linick as well. In August 2019, Linick issued a report that found “disrespectful and hostile treatment” of State Department employees by the department’s leadership. Another report from November 2019 found that political appointees improperly retaliated against a career State Department official.
Linick also gave a private briefing to a bipartisan group of congressmen last October in which he provided the members with “copies of documents related to the State Department and Ukraine.” It may be this breach of the State Department stonewall against impeachment that sealed Linick’s professional fate.
CNN reports that Ambassador Stephen Akard will replace Linick. Akard is currently the director of the Office of Foreign Missions in the State Department. He is also reported to be a close ally of Mike Pence.
Presidents do have the authority to fire inspectors general and President Trump is not the first president to do so. However, he seems to be the first president to so blatantly fire three IGs for doing their jobs and a fourth in an attempt to avoid oversight of how relief funds are spent.
President Trump was elected based on a promise to “drain the swamp,” but his actions since taking office have seemed as swampy as anything that previous occupants of the White House have done. Four years into his presidency, most Republicans no longer even offer token objections to Trump’s abuses of power. Susan Collins of Maine offered a tepidly critical tweet while Mitt Romney called the firing a “threat to accountable democracy.”
The failure of Republicans to hold President Trump accountable leaves voters who value the rule of law with two stark alternatives. They can either fire President Trump or they can fire his Republican enablers. Or both.