There are emerging glimmers that even some top Republican officials are growing weary of some of their president’s assaults on democracy.
Last Thursday, Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the longest-serving Republican now in the Senate, put the White House on notice.
Known as an advocate of vigorous oversight of the executive, Mr. Grassley had for some time been stewing about President Trump’s removal of inspectors general, the quasi-independent internal watchdogs tasked with overseeing federal agencies. In recent months, the president has pushed out five inspectors general (including acting I.G.s), with more dismissals expected. In the process, he has not even pretended to abide by the law requiring him to provide Congress with explanations for the terminations. He simply informed lawmakers that he had lost confidence in the officials.
Mr. Grassley had seen enough.
“Im placing holds on 2 Trump Admin noms until I get reasons 4firing 2 agency watchdogs as required by law,” the Iowa Republican tweeted, in the choppy parlance of social media. “All I want is a reason 4 firing these ppl CHECKS&BALANCES”
Whatever his view of the purges, Mr. Grassley is irked by the president’s disrespect for Congress. In response to Mr. Trump’s April 3 announcement that he was firing Michael Atkinson, the former inspector general for the intelligence community who played a tangential role in the president’s impeachment, Mr. Grassley demanded “more detailed reasoning” by April 13 — a request the White House ignored. The senator made a similar request following the May 15 ouster of Steven Linick, the former inspector general of the State Department, whom Mr. Trump dismissed at the request of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Mr. Linick had been investigating the secretary for possible abuse of office.
Mr. Grassley’s letter to the White House also expressed concern that, at both the State and the Transportation Departments, the president had replaced the ousted inspectors general with political appointees from within the agency, who reportedly planned to keep their political appointments while serving as I.G. This would, he pointed out, give them “oversight of and access to all confidential inspector general information, including whistle-blower complaints and identities,” while still reporting to the department secretary. (The senator is a big champion of whistle-blower protections.)
On May 26, Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel, responded with a letter that provided no explanations, even as it asserted the president’s “constitutional and statutory authority” to do what he had done.
Unimpressed, and perhaps weary of being humiliated, Mr. Grassley at last moved beyond letter-writing. Last Thursday, his office announced that he would “not consider the nomination of Christopher C. Miller to be the director of the National Counterterrorism Center” nor “the nomination of Marshall Billingslea to be the under secretary for arms control and international security at the State Department” until the president explained himself.
Perhaps coincidentally, Mr. Grassley’s move came one day after Mr. Linick told House members that he’d been removed from office shortly after seeking to interview Mr. Pompeo about his role in a questionable arms sale to Saudi Arabia. He also testified that a top department official and longtime friend of Mr. Pompeo’s, Brian Bulatao, had pressured him to abandon the inquiry.
The real problem, of course, goes far beyond Mr. Trump’s failure to observe reporting requirements. Since taking office, this president has worked to destroy individuals and institutions that attempt to hold his administration accountable. His animus toward inspectors general, whom he sees as part of a conspiracy against him, is just a tiny slice of the contempt for checks and balances that has come to define his presidency. Yet, time and again, Republican lawmakers have declined to rein him in.
It is not too late. On Monday, the Government Accountability Office, which keeps watch for Congress over how taxpayer money is spent, released a report outlining ways that lawmakers could attempt to safeguard the independence of inspectors general. Included among the suggestions: prohibiting the removal of I.G.s except for cause; expanding reporting requirements; beefing up the processes for “identifying and mitigating” threats to the I.G.s’ independence; and tightening the rules about who can serve as an acting I.G.
There are reform ideas floating around Capitol Hill that could provide a launchpad for discussion. Last month, a week after Mr. Linick’s firing, Mr. Grassley said that he was working on a bipartisan bill that would bar a political appointee within a department from also serving as its acting inspector general. Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Representative Jim Cooper of Tennessee, both moderate Democrats, have introduced legislation establishing seven-year terms for inspectors general and setting standards for their removal.
Mr. Grassley has taken a small but concrete step in reasserting Congress’s oversight authority. His effort should be encouraged and supported by his colleagues. Of the president’s firing decisions, Mr. Grassley warned, in an official statement for the Senate record: “Without sufficient explanation, the American people will be left speculating whether political or self-interests are to blame.”
Lawmakers unwilling to stand up to Mr. Trump and his escalating attacks on accountability should be increasingly concerned that the American people are wondering the same about them.
Source: NY times