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Democrats Launch An Investigation Into Firing Of State Department Inspector General

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Why was the inspector general of the State Department fired late on Friday evening? For the last six years, Steve Linick has served as the internal watchdog in charge of exposing corruption and waste within the department. His ouster is raising questions about what Linick might have been about to expose.

Congressional Democrats in the House and Senate announced over the weekend they are requesting all records and documents into Linick's firing. He is the latest in a list of inspector generals - of inspectors general to be ousted by the Trump White House. The House Appropriations Committee funds those IGs across the federal government, and the chair of that committee, Representative Nita Lowey of New York, joins us now.

Congresswoman, welcome back.

NITA LOWEY: Thank you, and good afternoon.

KELLY: Good afternoon to you. Let's dive in with the why. We have seen reports citing anonymous congressional sources that Linick was looking into allegations to do with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo - that Pompeo had a staffer performing chores, like walking his dog and picking up the family dry cleaning. So there was that.

And then today, your colleague Congressman Eliot Engel, also a Democrat - he pointed to Linick's investigation into this move last year by President Trump to set up billions of dollars of arms sales to Saudi Arabia and bypass Congress. So there's competing theories out there. What is your understanding of why Linick was fired?

LOWEY: Well, I think the firing of State Department IG Steve Linick was just another shameful late-night attack against our independent watchdogs. And that's why I've joined my colleagues who have spoken out in a bipartisan, bicameral way against his firing and do not believe this firing has been adequately explained or justified.

It seems to me to be a clear pattern of removing anyone who might be a check on this administration. And our foreign assistance programs are so critical to supporting our national security, economic growth, to helping promote democracy abroad. And Mr. Linick was charged with providing independent oversight to ensure our programs are implemented with accountability and integrity and prevent waste, fraud and abuse of U.S. taxpayer dollars.

KELLY: Right.

LOWEY: So it seems to me that Mr. Linick was fired, seemingly, according to the information I have, without warning for carrying out this critical oversight function - sends another chilling signal that the Trump administration rejects basic democratic principles, demonstrates its contempt...

KELLY: And...

LOWEY: ...For public servants who seek to fulfill their duties.

KELLY: And I hear you on the signal. You believe that this sends - just to make sure I hear you correctly on what the facts are, it sounds like you still have more questions than answers in terms of why exactly he might have been fired and why Friday.

LOWEY: Well, we certainly don't have any facts. He is a respected public servant. My staff, others have worked with him. And it looks like the - President Trump fires anyone whose opinion might differ from his own. So for this to be an attempt to grab power just doesn't make any sense to me at all. And I agree with Congressman Engel, Senator Bob Menendez, who have called for an investigation...

KELLY: Let me - yes.

LOWEY: ...Into his firing.

KELLY: I do want to push you on this in the...

LOWEY: Sure.

KELLY: ...Moments we have left. Inspectors general are supposed to be protected, but they are political appointees. In 30 seconds or so, do they not serve at the pleasure of the president?

LOWEY: Yes, but for the president to fire a person who is considered competent and investigating a declaration of a national security emergency to justify an 8.1 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia sounds pretty political to me. And I agree, again, with my colleagues Engel and Menendez. I think it shows clear signs of retaliation against Linick by the Trump administration.

KELLY: OK. I will inject here that Secretary Pompeo has given an interview to The Washington Post in which he denies this was an act of political retaliation. He says he didn't know he was being investigated, and therefore, he could not be retaliating.

We will have to leave it there. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, congresswoman. Great to speak to you. That was Representative Nita Lowey of New York. She is the chair of the House Appropriations Committee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.