You may not remember Steve Linick, but for a few days in early October, he found his way onto the front page thanks to concerns about the Justice department’s alleged role in perpetuating the Ukraine misinformation campaign orchestrated by Rudy Giuliani and his co-conspirators Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman.
On October 2, Linick turned over a mysterious “packet of propaganda” to Congress. At the time, Senator Bob Menendez described its contents as consisting largely of “long-debunked theories and false statements about the former US Ambassador to Ukraine and one of President Trump’s political opponents”.
In short, Linick informed lawmakers that documents apparently aimed at smearing Marie Yovanovitch were sent to Mike Pompeo early in 2019 from an anonymous source. Also mentioned in the documents was Hunter Biden.
On Friday night, Linick was fired by Donald Trump as State department inspector general.
This comes just a little over a month after the president removed intelligence community IG Michael Atkinson (who originally acknowledged the whistleblower complaint at the heart of last year’s impeachment inquiry) and Pentagon watchdog Glenn Fine (who was set to oversee implementation of the $2 trillion virus relief package). He also moved to oust Health and Human Services IG Christi Grimm, who the president charged with producing what he called a “fake dossier” on shortages at hospitals. (You can read that “dossier” and decide how “fake” it is was yourself here.)
In addition to representing a fourth rebuke of independent oversight in the space of six weeks, the removal of Linick has the potential to trigger another firestorm on Capitol Hill.
According to Eliot Engel and Menendez, Linick had launched an investigation into Pompeo, who personally called for his removal. “Secretary Pompeo recommended the move, and President Trump agreed”, a White House official who spoke to The Washington Post said. A second official confirmed as much, and multiple media outlets cited sources saying the same on Saturday.
Nancy Pelosi called this part of “a dangerous pattern of retaliation against the patriotic public servants charged with conducting oversight on behalf of the American people”.
Among GOP’ers, Chuck Grassley isn’t particularly amused. “Inspectors general are crucial in correcting government failures and promoting the accountability that the American people deserve”, he remarked, on the way to gently suggesting the president provide additional reasons for the decision other than “a general lack of confidence”.
Trump told Pelosi the following: “[It’s] vital I have the fullest confidence in the appointees serving as Inspectors General [and] that is no longer the case with regard to this Inspector General”.
Again, this came at the urging of Pompeo, who, according to at least two high profile Democrats, was under investigation by Linick. The following is an excerpt from a letter Engel and Menendez sent to Mark Meadows on Saturday (embedded in full below):
Reports indicate that Secretary Pompeo personally made the recommendation to fire Mr. Linick, and it is our understanding that he did so because the Inspector General had opened an investigation into wrongdoing by Secretary Pompeo himself. 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. This concern is amplified by the fact that it came only hours after the House of Representatives passed the Heroes Act, which contains additional legal protections for inspectors general.
Engel and Menendez are now demanding any and all records related to Linick’s removal.
Previously, Linick sought to expose possible politically-motivated harassment at the State department, and as The Post wrote Saturday, “he has been perceived as a persistent thorn in the side of the administration under Pompeo”.
More broadly, his removal suggests Trump isn’t even trying anymore when it comes to obscuring the rationale for removing IGs. I’d be remiss not to at least flag this as a possible flash point going forward. This is arguably more inflammatory than the removal of Atkinson and Fine. Atkinson’s ouster was a foregone conclusion given his role in the whistleblower saga, and Fine’s removal, as regrettable as it was, quickly disappeared into the blackhole that is today’s manic news cycle.
This White House has always chafed at oversight, but if Linick was, in fact, investigating Pompeo and if Pompeo did, in fact, orchestrate his removal, it means the president has become even more brazen in his efforts to ensure he and his inner circle cannot be held accountable.
You should expect investigations.