To get the measure of what’s transpiring in Washington, imagine if a Canadian prime minister engaged in multiple firings of government watchdogs. Let’s imagine if, in short order, he dumped overseers such as ethics watchdogs or auditors-general who had delivered or were preparing to deliver damaging reports and then replaced them with lackeys.
The uproar would be seismic.
In the American capital, U.S. President Donald Trump has banished five such watchdogs in the past six weeks. He’s been on a roll – a rolling purge. He’s turning those with responsibility for holding his government to account into purring kittens.
Among those summarily sacked have been Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community’s inspector-general, who handled the whistle-blower complaint on Mr. Trump’s meddling in Ukraine; Christi Grimm, whose Health and Human Services office criticized Mr. Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic; and Glenn Fine, chair of a federal panel overseeing the dispensing of the administration’s US$2-trillion coronavirus stimulus package.
But such is the lurid scale of malfeasance in this administration that the firings barely made the front pages. By Trumpian standards, they’re not even scandalettes.
His latest expulsion, however, is making waves. Steve Linick, inspector-general at the State Department, has been poleaxed for standing up to Mr. Trump’s foreign-policy kingpin, Mike Pompeo.
Watchdog Mr. Linick took his responsibilities quite literally. He had his nose in a lot of things, including the pompous Mr. Pompeo’s use of diplomatic aides to fetch his dog Sherman from a local groomer and take him on walkabouts. That, in addition to collecting his shirts from the dry cleaner.
Far weightier than puppygate, though, was Mr. Linick’s probing of Mr. Pompeo’s involvement in fast-tracking a US$7-billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia last year without Congressional approval.
The upshot saw Mr. Pompeo call on Mr. Trump to fire Mr. Linick. Unsurprisingly, the President did so, pronto. He’s a huge fan of the Secretary of State, since Mr. Pompeo has made a habit of kissing the very ground Mr. Trump walks on. They never disagree. “I will argue with anyone,” Mr. Trump told New York magazine. “Except Pompeo. I don’t think I’ve had an argument with Pompeo.”
Mr. Linick is being replaced by Stephen Akard, who is a close ally of U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence. The Democrats are planning a big-time investigation into the dismissal, charging Mr. Pompeo may have acted illegally to shield himself from accountability.
They’ve been trying to get their claws into Mr. Pompeo for some time, alleging, among other things, that he has been using State Department aircraft for frequent visits to his home state of Kansas, where he is considering a Senate run. He’s also reportedly looking at a presidential bid in 2024.
As a former Tea Party congressman, Mr. Pompeo made a name for himself by attacking Hillary Clinton, charging on non-existent grounds that she was complicit in the murder of four Americans at an outpost in Benghazi, Libya.
He denies having Mr. Linick fired for the reasons put forth, instead telling The Washington Post that he "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.”
Inspectors-general, however, are supposed to be independent – not functioning in whichever way cabinet secretaries might desire.
Mr. Trump did not address the Saudi arms sale but rather the canine controversy. “And now I have you telling me about dog walking,” he told reporters. “You know how stupid that sounds to the world? Unbelievable ... Here’s a man supposed to be negotiating war and peace with major countries.”
It does sound a tad absurd, and Mr. Trump would have a point if dog grooming was the only aspect of the Linick probe and if the President hadn’t gone about undermining the accountability system with his other firings.
As per usual, Mr. Trump’s Republicans don’t seem to mind his authoritarian overreach, a reliable exception being Senator Mitt Romney. “The firings of multiple Inspectors General is unprecedented.” he tweeted. “Doing so without good cause chills the independence essential to their purpose. It is a threat to accountable democracy."
The rolling purge shows Mr. Trump taking the onslaught against his opponents to extraordinary new heights, including his allegations that former president Barack Obama is guilty of one of the biggest scandals ever; that Democrat opponent Joe Biden is mentally decrepit; and that Joe Scarborough, of the anti-Trump show Morning Joe, is somehow complicit in a murder in relation to the 2001 death of a staffer in his Florida office.
“Unhinged” is a word that has often been used to describe this President. It’s looking more appropriate now than ever.
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