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Trump railroads Republicans with new watchdog firing

Several Senate Republicans reiterated Monday that the president is required by law to elaborate on his decision to fire Steve Linick, the State Department’s inspector general. They said they would wait for his response to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who has sent letters to Trump demanding more detailed explanations of his firings of Atkinson and Linick. When he fired the two, Trump said in his official notification letters he had lost confidence in both men.

“It’s very clear that the president has to provide a justification 30 days prior to the removal of an inspector general,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who co-wrote the 2008 law requiring notification to Congress ahead of an inspector general’s removal. “It is not a sufficient justification to say he simply lost confidence. As the co-author of that law, I know that is not what we intended. We intended a more fulsome explanation.”

But Trump unequivocally defended his most recent move — further underscoring that GOP senators’ warnings aren’t having an effect.

“It happens to be very political whether you like it or not. And many of these people were Obama appointments. So I just got rid of him,” the president said.

Former State Department Inspector General Steve Linick. | J. Scott Applewhite, File/AP Photo

Trump’s decision to fire Linick without complying with the 2008 law is the latest example of the president’s concerted campaign against high-level administration officials in the aftermath of his acquittal in the Senate’s impeachment trial, with a particular focus on those who played a role in his impeachment.

Several Republican senators who faulted Trump for his conduct toward Ukraine during the trial but still voted to acquit him said they had hoped Trump would learn a lesson from the impeachment saga. But Trump has emerged emboldened and eager for retribution, even as Republicans speak out against him.

“We deserve an explanation,” said Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.). “These are important positions. They are watchdogs for these agencies, and they have an important role to play, and I think it’s important for us to be a part of the oversight process.”

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But Republicans also acknowledged that the president has the authority to decide who serves in his executive branch, and most stopped short of endorsing more aggressive mechanisms to compel the president’s compliance. As Democrats introduced legislation that would require congressional approval for the firing of an inspector general, several Republicans said it was too soon to consider such an action — and reiterated that the president is already required by law to provide a detailed justification, even as he maintains the authority to hire and fire these officials.

“The inspector general serves a purpose,” said Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, a member of GOP leadership. “But they do serve at the discretion of the president, which seems to be contradictory but that’s the way the law is written.”

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) told reporters on Monday that he would consider supporting legislation from Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) aimed at shielding inspectors general from politically motivated terminations, but he didn’t rule out introducing his own proposal.

“I would like to see a way to preserve the independence of the inspectors general,” Romney said. “There are multiple ways one could potentially do that.”

Linick’s firing drew criticism from some Senate Republicans over the weekend, including Grassley, Collins and Romney. They’re the same GOP senators who sought details on Trump’s firing of Atkinson, who was also sacked on a Friday night with little by way of an official explanation.

And on Monday, Grassley sent yet another letter to the president demanding that he provide a written explanation for his removal of Linick by June 1. The Iowa Republican also followed up on his previous demand about Atkinson’s firing. That response was due on April 13, but Trump has thus far ignored the letter.

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