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President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office of the White House, Friday, May 15, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The Associated Press

U.S. President Donald Trump has fired the State Department’s inspector general, an Obama administration appointee whose office was critical of alleged political bias in the agency’s management. The ouster is the latest in a series of moves against independent executive branch watchdogs who have found fault with the Trump administration.

A senior department official said Trump removed Steve Linick from his job on Friday but gave no reason for his ouster. In a letter to Congress, Trump said Linick, who had held the job since 2013, no longer had his full confidence and that his removal would take effect in 30 days. Trump did not mention Linick by name in his letter.

Democrats in Congress immediately cried foul, with the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee suggesting that Linick was fired in part in retaliation for opening an unspecified investigation into Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

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“This firing is the outrageous act of a president trying to protect one of his most loyal supporters, the secretary of state, from accountability,” Eliot Engel said in a statement. “I have learned that the Office of the Inspector General had opened an investigation into Secretary Pompeo. Mr. Linick’s firing amid such a probe strongly suggests that this is an unlawful act of retaliation.”

Engel offered no details of the alleged investigation into Pompeo, although two congressional aides said the probe involved allegations that Pompeo may have improperly treated staff. Linick’s office has issued several reports critical of the department’s handling of personnel matters during the Trump administration, including accusing some of political appointees of retaliating against career officials.

“If Inspector General Linick was fired because he was conducting an investigation of conduct by Secretary Pompeo, the Senate cannot let this stand,” said Sen. Chris Murphy. “The Senate Foreign Relations Committee must get to bottom of what happened here.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also condemned Linick’s ouster, saying he had been “punished for honourably performing his duty to protect the Constitution and our national security.”

“The president must cease his pattern of reprisal and retaliation against the public servants who are working to keep Americans safe, particularly during this time of global emergency.”

Linick, whose office also took issue with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server while she served as America’s top diplomat, played a minor role in Ukraine impeachment investigation into Trump.

In October, Linick turned over documents to House investigators that he had received from State Department’s counsellor T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, a close Pompeo associate, which contained information from debunked conspiracy theories about Ukraine’s role in the 2016 election.

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Linick will replaced by Stephen Akard, a former career foreign service officer who has close ties to Vice-President Mike Pence, said the official, who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. Akard currently runs the department’s Office of Foreign Missions. He had been nominated to be the director general of the foreign service but withdrew after objections he wasn’t experienced enough.

Linick, a former assistant U.S. attorney in California and Virginia, had overseen inspector general reports that were highly critical of the department’s management policies during the Trump administration. His office had criticized several Trump appointees for their treatment of career staff for apparently being insufficiently supportive of Trump and his policies.

Under Linick, the State Department’s inspector general office was also critical of former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s hiring freeze and attempts to streamline the agency by slashing its funding and personnel.

Trump has been taking aim lately at inspectors general.

In April, he fired Michael Atkinson, the inspector general for the intelligence community, for his role in the whistleblower complaint that led to Trump’s impeachment.

Then Trump removed Glenn Fine as acting inspector general at the Defence Department, a move that stripped him of his post as chairman of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee.

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During a White House briefing on COVID-19, Trump questioned the independence of an inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services over a report that said there was a shortage of supplies and testing at hospitals.

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