Spotlight: Bipartisan lawmakers urge Trump to explain why State Department watchdog ousted

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WASHINGTON, May 18 (Xinhua) -- U.S. bipartisan lawmakers on Monday urged President Donald Trump to provide a more detailed explanation for his decision to fire the State Department's Inspector General (IG) Steve Linick.

"The removal is part of a pattern of undermining the integrity" of the IGs and the U.S. government, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, said in a letter to Trump, calling for "detailed and substantial justification" for the decision.

Senator Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, made a similar request on Monday, citing a U.S. law that requires the White House to provide Congress with a written explanation at least 30 days prior to removing an IG.

"IGs are intended to be equal opportunity investigators and are designed to combat waste, fraud, abuse, and misconduct without regard to political affiliation," Grassley wrote. "Removal of IGs without explanation could create a chilling effect in the oversight community, and risks decreasing the quantity, quality, fidelity, and veracity of their reports."

The senator asked the White House to produce a detailed reasoning for the removal of Linick no later than June 1, and a written response as soon as possible regarding the ouster of Intelligence Community IG Michael Atkinson, which was announced by Trump in April.

Trump said last week that he's firing Linick because he did not have the fullest confidence in the official, who began his tenure as the State Department's watchdog in 2013. That decision has sparked an inquiry by Democrats and scrutiny even by a number of Republicans.

Speaking to reporters at a White House event on Monday, Trump said he does not know Linick and "never heard of him," but acknowledged that it was Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who recommended the move.

"I was happy to do it. Mike requested that I do it," he said. "Maybe he thinks he's being treated unfairly."

Democratic Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Eliot Engel, who jointly launched an inquiry into Linick's removal with Senator Bob Menendez, Democratic ranking member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said on Monday that the IG was investigating the Trump administration's efforts to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia by declaring a national emergency to sidestep congressional approval.

"I've learned there may be another reason for IG Linick's firing. His office was investigating -- at my request -- Trump's phony emergency declaration so he could send Saudi Arabia weapons," Engel tweeted. "We don't have the full picture yet, but it's troubling that Sec Pompeo wanted Linick pushed out."

Linick was reportedly looking into whether Pompeo had made a political appointee run personal errands for him, including walking his dog and picking up his dry cleaning.

Trump said on Monday that he doesn't think the allegations against Pompeo are "important."

"Here's a man supposed to be negotiating war and peace with major, major countries with weaponry like the world has never seen before, and the Democrats and the fake news media they're interested in a man who's walking their dog," the president said. "And maybe he's busy ... So that he'd say please could you walk my dog?"

"This country has a long way to go. The priorities are really screwed up," he said of the investigations into Pompeo.

In an interview with The Washington Post on Monday, Pompeo, the Trump administration's second secretary of state, said that he doesn't know Linick's investigations, and that Linick was fired because his work was "undermining" the mission of the State Department.

"I went to the president and made clear to him that Inspector General Linick wasn't performing a function in a way that we had tried to get him to," Pompeo said.

"It is not possible that this decision, or my recommendation rather, to the president rather, was based on any effort to retaliate for any investigation that was going on or is currently going on," the secretary of state said. "Because I simply don't know. I'm not briefed on it. I usually see these investigations in final draft form 24 hours, 48 hours before the IG is prepared to release them."

"So it's simply not possible for this to be an act of retaliation. End of story," he added.

As inspector general, Linick was responsible for, among other things, conducting administrative and criminal investigations of waste, fraud, mismanagement, and misconduct in the State Department, according to his online biography.

Besides Linick and Atkinson, Trump has moved in the past few weeks to fire acting Pentagon IG Glenn Fine, and Christi Grimm, principal deputy IG of the Department of Health and Human Services. Enditem

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