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Trump is striving for norms and trying to bring independent watchdogs to the heel



WASHINGTON – Congress had a clear idea of ​​what role it expected inspectors to play when it created them in 1978 following the Watergate scandals. They would be disseminated in the federal government’s offices and departments, not as legal members but internal judges, accused of eradicating corruption, waste, abuse and illegality.

As the number increased over the four decades since then, inspectors have played that role in bureaucracies as large as the Pentagon and as small as the Denali Commission, which is responsible for infrastructure development in Alaska. It was an inspector general who discovered it in 2003 C.I.A. used unauthorized technology to torture prisoners and an inspector general who produced billions of dollars that are wasted in reconstruction projects in Afghanistan.

And now he has launched a full-fledged – and at the moment rather innovative – attack on the ability of inspectors to investigate his administration.

“Trump generally replaces independent inspectors with unqualified political allies, which is in violation of statutory requirements,” said Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis. Louis who has written about the watchdog system. “First and foremost, he is removing independent officials who protect the public and help ensure compliance with the law.”

Trump, who likes to boast that he has complete authority over the executive branch, has shown that he does not intend to play by these rules. For example, when he removed Mr. Linick, the president immediately abolished him for authority and told Congress that he no longer had full confidence in him, but did not say why.

Trump later told reporters that he did so just because Pompeo asked him.

“I said, ‘Who appointed him,’ and they said, ‘President Obama,'” said the president. “I said, look, ‘I’m going to resign him.’ I was happy to do that,” Trump said later. Mr Pompeo added on Wednesday that he “should have done it some time ago.”

This week, Mr. denied. Pompeo knew he knew what Linick was doing other than the gun deal, saying it was “impatiently false” that he asked Trump to retaliate. But he also refused to say what his reason was.

At the same time Trump removed Linick, he abruptly installed Howard “Skip” Elliott, a political appointee in the transportation department, to serve as acting inspector general for that department.

“This means that while they are still reporting to the agency’s secretaries, they will have oversight and access to all confidential inspector general information, including complaints and whistleblower IDs,” he wrote.

Grassley has also pressured the president to provide a more detailed official statement to Congress for his extension last month by Michael K. Atkinson, Inspector General of the Director of National Intelligence. As with Linick, Trump had put Atkinson on leave rather than waiting for 30 days and just told Congress that he had lost confidence in him.

But in remarks to reporters, the president remained clearly angry at Atkinson for trying to warn Congress for whistleblowing complaints about Trump’s attempt to pressure Ukrainian leaders to announce a criminal investigation by former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son Hunter Biden.

There’s one precedent for one of Trump’s tactics: In 2009, President Barack Obama abruptly eliminated Gerald Walpin, the inspector general for the National and Community Service, and also put him in office, initially telling him that he had lost confidence in the official.

But while administrations from both parties have regularly clashed with inspectors-in-chief, Trump’s campaign to intimidate and subject watchdogs to political control is parallel.

Trump also replaced Mr. Fine as an actor in the Pentagon with Sean O’Donnell, the sitting director general of the Environmental Protection Agency who had clashed with Andrew Wheeler, director of E.P.A. By demanding that O’Donnell divide his time, critics said, the administration went under its ability to conduct surveillance at both authorities.

“It’s impossible to do them both,” said David C. Williams, who served as inspector general for six federal agencies during a government career that stretched from the Carter administration to the Trump administration.

But Trump’s latest twist – to install political appointees controlled by bureau chiefs to run inspectors’ offices – was another step up.




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