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‘All I want is a reason’: GOP senator blocks Trump’s nominations until administration explains why it fired watchdogs

  • June 05, 2020

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, on Thursday said he would block two Trump administration nominations until the White House explained why it fired two federal watchdogs.

Grassley had previously sent letters to President Donald Trump asking for explanations after the firings of Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson and State Department Inspector General Steve Linick.

The White House counsel responded to Grassley’s letter in late May about Linick’s ouster, but it “failed to address” the requirement that there be a “good reason” for such a termination, Grassley said at the time.

In a tweet Thursday afternoon, Grassley said he was “placing holds” on the Trump administration’s nominations “until I get reasons” for the firings “as required by law.”

“All I want is a reason 4 firing these ppl,” Grassley added in a shorthand-style text for which he has become known online. “CHECKSBALANCES,” Grassley added.

Grassley was blocking the nominations of Christopher Miller to be the director of the National Counterterrorism Center and Marshall Billingslea to be the State Department’s undersecretary for arms control and international security.

Trump fired Linick in a surprise, late-night move on May 15 on a recommendation from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was involved in at least two investigations reportedly being conducted by the watchdog’s office at the time. 

In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Trump said he lost “confidence” in Linick, without providing further explanation.

Democrats are investigating whether the firing was a retributive move by Pompeo, who last month admitted that he had answered questions sent from Linick’s office related to a probe. Despite that admission, Pompeo said he could not have been retaliating against Linick when he recommended his removal because he was unaware of the inspector general’s investigations at the time.

Linick told Congress in a private interview Wednesday that he told at least three of Pompeo’s aides about one of the investigations — a probe into whether Pompeo and his wife misused government resources — before he was fired, NBC News reported.

Pompeo has said since the firing that Linick should have been terminated earlier. “He was acting in a way that was deeply inconsistent with what the State Department was trying to do,” the secretary said in a Fox News interview.

He added that Linick was leaking information, had refused to allow his office to participate in a coronavirus protection team and was “investigating policies he simply didn’t like.”

Linick, however, said in his private interview with Congress, “The record shows that I have served without regard to politics,” NBC reported.

In April, Trump ordered the removal of Michael Atkinson, the inspector general of the intelligence community who had flagged the Ukraine whistleblower complaint that became a major catalyst for Trump’s eventual impeachment in the House. Trump was acquitted in the Senate.

Days later, Trump removed acting Pentagon Inspector General Glenn Fine, who was overseeing the $2 trillion coronavirus relief package. Trump in early May also moved to replace Health and Human Services Inspector General Christi Grimm, who weeks earlier had sent the president a report showing that hospitals were lacking the supplies necessary to combat the pandemic.

Grassley, a co-founder of the Whistleblower Protection Caucus, entered statements in the congressional record Thursday objecting to “any unanimous consent request” related to the nominations, his office told CNBC.

The White House did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on Grassley’s actions.

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