President Trump’s Friday night firing of a prominent inspector general, one in a series of similar ousters, has such big ramifications for the functioning of our democracy that some powerful Republicans are questioning the move and Democrats in Congress are investigating it.
So let’s review what happened, why it’s important and what could happen next.
What are inspectors general? They are watchdogs for government agencies who can investigate government wrongdoing and corruption from the inside. But they’re not entirely independent: The top inspectors general are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, meaning the president can fire them.
Trump, unlike previous presidents, does not seem worried about the public perception of getting rid of watchdogs who are critical of actions in his presidency.
What happened that’s causing so much controversy? On Friday night, Trump fired an inspector general for the State Department, Steve Linick, saying he no longer had the “fullest confidence” in him.
Trump speaks at a coronavirus round table on Monday, a few days after he fired the State Department inspector general without fully explaining why. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
That alone would look troublesome, given Linick is the fourth inspector general to be fired by Trump in recent weeks, after they had respectively reported unfavorably on the government’s coronavirus response, given Congress documents related to Trump’s Ukraine call, or were overseeing the administration’s handling of coronavirus aid to businesses.
But there may be more to this firing. Linick was in the process of investigating whether a staffer for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was doing things like picking up his dry-cleaning or walking his dog on taxpayer money. Pompeo told The Post on Monday that he recommended Linick’s firing to Trump but said he wasn’t aware Linick was investigating him.
What happens next? Democrats in Congress have started an investigation into what happened, and Republicans in Congress notably aren’t criticizing Democrats for looking into this.
It’s also notable in today’s hyperpartisan era that two Republican senators have outright criticized or seemed uneasy with what Trump did. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who voted for Trump’s conviction in the impeachment trial, called Trump’s firings “a threat to accountable democracy.” And Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said Congress deserves more of an explanation from Trump on why he fired Linick.
A name in the news you should know: Robert Redfield
CDC Director Robert Redfield is getting criticism from the White House. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Who he is: He’s the director of the Centers for Disease Control, so he’s a key member of the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force. He’s the one who told The Washington Post last month that the second wave of coronavirus in the fall could be even more devastating than the first.
Why he’s in the news: The White House isn’t that happy with the agency he leads, The Post reports. Trump has blamed “the Obama administration” for leaving them “bad, broken tests” on coronavirus, years before the virus was known. But some White House officials have started placing blame on the CDC’s botched test this spring as a reason testing in the United States has been so delayed. Recently, the White House stopped the CDC’s extensive guidance for how to reopen from fully going out, worried it would seem too controlling. And in February, it was an official for the CDC who warned that coronavirus was going to change Americans’ way of life, before Trump was ready to acknowledge that. Recently, Deborah Birx who heads the White House coronavirus task force has questioned the CDC’s data on coronavirus deaths.
Why this matters: Because the CDC is supposed to be a central player in the coronavirus response, but now Redfield and his agency are receiving the blame for Trump’s coronavirus response. And it could get worse for them.
“[A]s Trump has promised a reignited economy heading into the November election,” The Post reports, “the CDC is in the awkward position of producing the information Trump wants least — the reminder that the covid-19 death rate has plateaued at nearly 2,000 per day.”
The Biden attacks are coming
Trump’s campaign just spent $10 million — that’s a lot, as far as political ad spending goes — in swing states, almost all of it aimed at tearing down his presumptive Democratic opponent, former vice president Joe Biden.
That means you should get ready to hear three major lines of attack:
1. Biden’s diplomacy with China (the campaign recently ran a misleading ad about this).
2. Biden’s embrace of some more liberal policies (like some aspects of the Green New Deal, though he still doesn’t support Medicare for All).
3. Biden’s age and manner of speaking.
The Biden campaign’s plan for now? Ignore them, reports The Post. It is operating under the assumption the election is a referendum on Trump’s coronavirus response, no matter how much Trump tries to turn the tables and focus on Biden.